[caption id="attachment_71303" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/02\/ENT.-Watoga-1-1.jpg" alt="" class="size-full wp-image-71303" \/> Annabel taps a maple tree while her father, Trevor Swan, looks on. K. Springer photo[\/caption]\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_71304" align="aligncenter" width="600"]<img src="https:\/\/pocahontastimes.com\/wp-content\/uploads\/sites\/25\/2021\/02\/ENT.-Watoga-2.jpg" alt="" class="size-full wp-image-71304" \/> Currier and Ives depiction of a sugarhouse. Public Domain[\/caption]\r\n\r\nTapping the sugarbush\r\nFrom sap to syrup\r\nPart One\r\n\r\nI cannot imagine tucking into a tall stack of pancakes without a liberal dousing of maple syrup. And by maple syrup, I mean real maple syrup, not the amber liquid composed primarily of high-fructose corn syrup and flavored with chemicals or fenugreek. I am speaking strictly of the nectar of maple trees.\r\n\r\nSuppose you enjoy real maple syrup, and you live in Pocahontas County. In that case, you are fortunate to have close at hand the two essentials of the sweet bounty of the maple tree. Lots of sugar, red and black maple trees, and the people skilled in extracting the sap from those trees and turning it into a waffle topping rivaling ambrosia.\r\n\r\nNot to mention maple candy, butter, cream and even maple cotton candy.\r\n\r\nIn this episode of the Watoga Trail Report, we will examine the history of \u201csugar making,\u201d as maple syrup producers call it. Next week, we will narrow our focus down to one young entrepreneurial family in Hillsboro \u2013 the Swans. They are joining a growing list of maple product producers in Pocahontas County.\r\n\r\nAt first glance the whole process looks pretty straightforward, but I assure you it is not. The maple trees produce the sap but obtaining that sap and turning it into maple syrup is time-consuming and physically demanding. And not without logistical problems unique to an industry situated in our mountainous terrain.\r\n\r\nExpect a lot of mucking about in the snow if you intend on being a producer. The romantic Currier and Ives portrayal of the steaming sugar shack is\u00a0after\u00a0you have collected and transported the sap back to the evaporator. Keep in mind that it takes some 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.\r\n\r\nIf sugaring is not to be approached as an easy task today, imagine how difficult it must have been before modern labor-saving devices.\r\n\r\nIt is widely acknowledged and appreciated that Native Americans instructed the early Europeans in the method of making tree syrups.\r\n\r\nArchaeologists cannot determine precisely when native peoples started to reduce tree sap to something akin to today\u2019s maple syrup. It is likely that the finished product was not nearly as dense as ours is today.\r\n\r\nThere are many stories about how the native people discovered the method of making maple syrup. One legend has it that the first use of maple syrup was boiling venison for a great chief\u2019s culinary pleasure.\r\n\r\nToday\u2019s maple syrup contains approximately 66% sucrose and has a higher viscosity. So that old legend suggests that the earliest versions of syrup may have been sap boiled just long enough to create a sweet liquid. Many of the legends recount boiling various wild meats in maple sap.\r\n\r\nWe know that Native people of New England and Canada collected the sap in birch baskets. Dropping hot rocks into the sap turned the liquid to steam, thereby concentrating the sugar in the remaining sap.\r\n\r\nOne method allowed the baskets of sap to freeze. By removing the ice each day, the remaining liquid became progressively more saturated with sugar over time.\r\n\r\nI happen to like that particular method due to a lifelong aversion to physical labor.\r\n\r\nWhen we think of maple syrup, we tend to identify it solely with Canada and the U.S. Almost all of the world\u2019s maple syrup comes from North America, some 85% produced by Canada alone.\r\n\r\nAlthough, Europe did not ignore the sweet treat provided by the sucrose-laden vascular system of birch and maple trees.\u00a0 European and Scandinavian historical records reveal that several tree species were used to make sweet drinks and alcoholic beverages.\r\n\r\nYet, there is little mention of what we in North America would regard as \u201csyrup.\u201d Even today, most maple products sold in Europe are imported from North America.\u00a0\r\n\r\nModern production systems started with tapping individual trees and catching the sap in buckets. The sugarhouse (also called the sugar shack) was often located close to a dense stand of maple trees, called a sugarbush.\r\n\r\nBefore the advent of motor vehicles, horse-drawn wagons and sleds transported the sap to the sugar shacks. Sugar shacks were so-called because they were generally simple three-sided wood plank buildings with a roof and dirt floor.\r\n\r\nOften depicted in old lithographs, the sugar shack served as a winter gathering place for young and old alike to watch the \u201cboiling off\u201d process. And occasionally enjoying a special treat of snow saturated with maple syrup. The first snow cone, perhaps?\r\n\r\nLarge sheet-metal pans began replacing iron kettles about the time of the Civil War. These \u201cevaporators\u201d greatly increased the evaporation surface, significantly reducing the boiling time.\r\n\r\nThe actual boiling temperature for sap is approximately seven degrees above the boiling temperature for water, adjusted for elevation.\r\n\r\nEverett Soule invented the first plastic bags for collecting sap in 1950. The 15-quart bags offered the luxury of visibility from a distance rather than walking to the metal bucket to check the volume of sap. Such trips added up when you are tapping hundreds of trees.\r\n\r\nAs well, there was a growing health concern about lead contamination of syrup from corroded galvanized buckets. Such contamination could also taint the flavor of the finished product with a metallic \u201coff-flavor.\u201d\r\n\r\nOff-flavors are also a concern when tapping trees later in the season when the trees start to form buds. Amino acids produced by the trees at this time are suspected of tainting the flavor of the sap.\r\n\r\nIn the 1970s, plastic tubing revolutionized the sap-collecting process. No more lugging sap-filled containers; a network of tubing carries the sap to a central collection container.\r\n\r\nSince using tubing is normally by gravity feed, care must be exercised to strategically set up the network in order to minimize the linear feet of tubing used and maximize the number of taps within the system.\r\n\r\nTechnology has made the production process much more efficient than in earlier years.\r\n\r\nMethods of reducing evaporation time to achieve the desired 66% sugar content of maple syrup include new configurations of evaporators, vacuum pumps, reverse osmosis, and the use of preheaters.\r\n\r\nBy 1900, some evaporator pans were redesigned with concave \u201cflues\u201d rather than a flat bottom. This creates more surface area exposed to boiling and greatly decreases the boil time.\r\n\r\nMore recently, the continuous-flow pan with baffles is used by many syrup producers instead of the conventional \u201csingle batch\u201d pan. The pan\u2019s design allows for a flow of the sap through the chambers as the sugar density increases, creating a gradient-based gate-keeper between the baffles.\r\n\r\nSome producers use vacuum pumps to draw the sap from the trees. The upside is an increase in sap volume, allegedly up to 300%.\u00a0 But critics claim it can damage trees.\r\n\r\nAn article in\u00a0Northern Woodlands\u00a0suggests that vacuum tubing over time can suck wood cell matter into the tube and pull water from the tree, diluting the sap.\r\n\r\nUsing membrane filters, reverse osmosis is a process that separates water from the sap. This system can increase the sugar content of the liquid by up 25% before the boiling process. That\u2019s a big head start and an obvious time and money saver.\r\n\r\nA sap preheater speeds up the evaporation process by warming the sap to near boiling temperature before it enters the evaporation pan. When unheated sap is introduced to the batch, it lowers its overall temperature. Energy is required to bring the batch temperature back up to standard, so preheating saves money and ensures a quality product.\r\n\r\nYet, despite the many technological changes in sugar making, the essential steps haven\u2019t changed at all. Someone must go out in the sugarbush and tap the trees to obtain the sap. The sap must be heated until evaporation has brought the sugar content up to 66%.\r\n\r\nHumans find the taste of maple syrup so delicious that they have been following this procedure annually for hundreds, if not thousands of years.\r\n\r\nThere you go, the story of how maple syrup gets from the tree to your table. And quite possibly more than you ever wanted to know about a pancake topping.\r\n\r\nBut, when facing down a Belgian waffle on your Sunday morning breakfast plate, there is only one thing in this world that you want to fill those little square reservoirs \u2013 Maple Syrup.\u00a0\r\n\r\nFrom Pocahontas County, of course!\u00a0\r\n\r\nKen Springer\r\nKen1949bongo@gmail.com\r\n\r\nCitations are available at my email address.