Pure Pennsylvania maple syrup is produced in the northern most sections of the state. The maple season runs from mid-February to the beginning of April. The sap runs best when the temperature dips below 32 degrees at night and rises to 40 degrees or above during the day. Sap is collected from the maple trees by drilling a 5/16 hole 1 and ½ inches into the tree and inserting a spile (see photo on left). A bucket is hung on the spile for collection or the spile is connected to maze of plastic tubing that carries the sap to a central collection tank. Vacuum pumps are also used on tubing systems to encourage sap flow. Freezing temperatures at night build up an internal pressure within the tree. When the tree thaws during the day that internal pressure being greater than the atmospheric pressure is what makes the sap run. Vacuum is the absence of pressure, so by introducing vacuum to the tubing lines it makes the tree "think" the atmospheric pressure is really low, increasing sap flow for longer periods of time.
Sap from the maple tree is only 2% sugar and looks just like water. To convert maple sap into maple syrup large amounts of water need to be removed. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. Reverse osmosis machines are used to remove 2/3 of the water from maple sap before the boiling process. Reverse osmosis is the same process used to desalinate ocean water, only with maple sap the concentrated sugar is kept to boil and the pure water is the waste. Ultraviolet lights are used to kill the bacteria in the concentrated sap to increase the quality of the pure maple syrup produced.
The final step in converting maple sap into pure maple syrup is the evaporation process. The concentrated sap is fed into an evaporator. An evaporator is a series of pans over a firebox or arch where the concentrated sap is boiled. The most common and economical fuel is wood, but some producers use oil or gas. The concentrated sap is fed into the evaporator through a system of floats that maintain a constant level in the pans. The concentrated sap boils and moves through the pans until it reaches the front of the evaporator where it is drawn off as pure maple syrup. Pure maple syrup is finished at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. After the pure maple syrup is drawn off it is pumped through a filter press to remove any impurities, and is hot packed in 30 and 40 gallon stainless steel drums.
When the pure maple syrup is removed from the stainless steel drums it is reheated, the density of the syrup is checked again using a hydrometer, the syrup is refiltered, and then hot packed into retail containers for your family to enjoy!
The Different Grades of Maple Syrup
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