Sweet Traditions

Maple Weekend Highlights Importance Of Local Syrup Industry

Lloyd Munsee, pictured at left, and David Munsee of Big Tree Maple in Lakewood. They are standing in front of their evaporator machine. The stainless steel barrel on the left is where the final maple syrup product ends up. Photos by Daryl Simons Jr.

LAKEWOOD — This year marked the 24th annual New York Maple Weekend, which featured several of the maple syrup producers around the state. A tour of one facility located at 2040 Holly Lane, right off of Big Tree road in Lakewood, shows how maple syrup is made.

Lloyd and David Munsee started Big Tree Maple back in 1993. Starting with a modest number of 40 tapped trees, they have grown to have over 3300 today, 5,000 if other sap suppliers are included as well. In a given year, a full crop would produce about 2,000 gallons of maple syrup. Note that it takes nearly 50 gallons of sap to produce that 1 gallon of syrup, which means that Big Tree Maple processes about 100,000 gallons of sap in the same year.

After walking into their facility, a visitor will immediately smell the richness of the sap evaporating into maple syrup.

The entirety of the process behind making and bottling maple syrup can be done within a 24-hour period. Overall, it is about a six week season, running from February to early April.

But what is constituted in this process?

Firstly, the sap is extracted from various local tree farms in the Ashville, Panama and Mayville areas. The extraction process isn’t as it once was, which included the use of sap buckets and gratuitous manual labor. The process today is much more streamlined, though requiring a careful eye for the equipment used.

The extraction process technically begins in early February, but as David Munsee said during a tour this weekend, much preparatory work as early as November is needed to ensure that the equipment is still in working condition, mainly from animals chewing into tubes or other equipment.

During the concluding winter months, as the tree and sap begins to thaw, the tree will begin drawing sap up from the roots into the trunk and subsequently branches to promote growth.

The extraction process begins just as the sap begins to rise.

And as the tree contains a natural pressure system from within, that also aids in the extraction process, as the sap will travel down the path of least resistance, or the spout that has been inserted.

A hole is drilled into a tree that is at least ten inches in diameter or more. Then a polycarbonate spout is inserted, of which several tubes of increasing sizes are attached. The last tube is connected to a vacuum pump, and if the seal is tight and air pressure correct, optimal sap extraction will occur.

Weather will impact the color and flavor of the end product as well, darker syrup will have a robust maple flavor, while amber colored syrup will be more rich. Warmer days produce darker syrup due to the higher bacterial concentrations within the sap, while colder days will conversely create lighter syrups.

The sap if brought back to the facility, and then processed through a method called reverse osmosis. Normally, companies will use this to purify water, but for maple syrup, the byproduct created from it is used instead. This will remove about 80% of the water from the sap, increasing the sugar concentration to fourteen percent sugar. Finished maple syrup will be made up of sixty-six percent sugar.

It is then ran through the evaporator, which does just that, further concentrating the sap, turning it into a syrup. When the temperature reaches a specific temperature, syrup will be released into another container.

From there, its density will be tested with a hydrometer. Also at these phase, diatomaceous earth will be mixed in, which draws out the sugar sand, essentially the impurities in the syrup. This mixture is pumped through the filter press, funneled into forty gallon stainless steel barrels, ready to be bottled.

Big Tree Maple sells their syrup mostly at its store, but also can purchased online at bigtreemaple.com. Other local producers are Fairbanks Maple in Forestville and Clear Creek Farm in Mayville.

The farm will continue providing tours this Saturday and Sunday. Ashville General Store on Route 474 will be hosting pancake breakfasts on these same dates and will provide coupons for maple syrup purchases for attendees.