When the production of maple syrup is mentioned, we tend to think of snowy New England days with sap buckets hanging on large sugar maples. Historically, the northeastern parts of the United States, especially Vermont, has been known as the maple sugar region. But, did you know that eastern Kentucky has also been and still is home to maple syrup production? Yes, maple syrup producers are scattered all over the region, including Harlan County.
Maple syrup is a naturally occurring sweetener that is made by concentrating the sap of maple trees. In other words, we evaporate or boil a large portion of the water off. Most sugar maple sap is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar and maple syrup is 67 percent sugar and 33 percent water, thus majority of the water has to be evaporated off.
It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. That’s a lot of work, time, patience but the benefits are well worth it. Recent studies show that that maple syrup provides many health benefits through its anti-oxidant properties. Also, it’s just great to have maple syrup for pancakes, ice cream and can even be used to make candy and baked goods.
The sap from sugar maples historically provide the highest concentration of sugar but red maples and silver maples can be tapped as well.
If you have one of the varieties of maples mentioned above, you may want to utilize the sap to make syrup. Look for healthy maple trees with large crowns that held lots of leaves. Leaves are the food producers and that’s where the sugar content comes from. Also, tap trees that are at least 10 inches in diameter. A large factor is having these maple trees that are easily accessible. The farther away from a vehicle, the farther you’ll need to carry sap.
It will soon be time to tap those maples you may have. Sap begins to flow on days when highs reach 40 degrees and night drop down to 20 degrees. Historically, the sap flow usually begins in early to mid-January. Most maple syrup producers will collect for a few days and then choose a day to evaporate or boil and it’s best to dedicate a full day to the process.
Having maple syrup on pancakes is a great reward at the end of the day. If you are interested in tapping your maple trees to make maple syrup, contact us here at the office. We can provide you with the information to get started in the process.
Jeremy Williams is the Harlan County extension agent for agriculture & natural resources. Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.