Tapping Into Real Maple Syrup

  • A very unscientific blind taste test found most people prefer grocery store syrup rather than real maple syrup. (Photo by Lester Graham)

In some parts of the country, it’s time to tap maple trees to make
syrup. Lester Graham went out to see how it’s done and conducted a
little taste test to see whether real maple syrup stands up to the name
brands you find at the grocery store:


In some parts of the country, it’s time to tap maple trees to make
syrup. Lester Graham went out to see how it’s done and conducted a
little taste test to see whether real maple syrup stands up to the name
brands you find at the grocery store:

This story started out to be just a little walk in the woods to see
what all the fuss was about. Tapping sap from maples seems like a
quaint old-fashioned idea. After all, doesn’t syrup come from the
grocery store?

Well, anyway, Tom Jameson straightened me out about that. Early in the morning
he led the way through the woods until he found one of the maples he
wanted to tap. First, he drilled a small hole, then drove the tap – or
spline – into the tree:

“We are using an old bit and brace to drill a hole about a half in diameter and an inch and a half to two inches deep. Okay, now I need to just clean that whole little bit. I’ll be ready to drive in the tap, using a hammer to tap it into place. And, already the sap is beginning to run out.”

And that’s it. Sap started dripping right away into a covered bucket
hanging from the tap, or spline.

(Sound of dripping)

It takes a long time to get enough sap, and you need a lot of sap:

“Well, especially with these red maples, you’d need at least 40 gallons
to make one gallon of syrup.”

“So, if you’re doing it commercially, absolutely you want to stick to
sugar maples or hard maples. For the backyard guy that wants to try it,
any maple will work.”

You just have to boil it down sap from soft maples like the red maple
for a lot longer because there’s more water in the sap. And boiling down 40
gallons down to get one gallon of syrup takes a long time, like a good part of a
day or longer.

Jameson says for a lot of people, this is a family event. Empty the
buckets of sap into a big pan over an open fire and keep it boiling. And
a lot of the time you sit around listening to a favorite uncle tell
stories between nips of a flask that keeps getting passed around.

Jameson says it’s a good time, and worth the time spent because real
maple syrup is so good. Well, at least some people think it’s really
good. Jameson admits it’s not what some folks expect:

“Young people that have been raised on the grocery product sometimes
they don’t even like the real thing because it just tastes different to
them. It doesn’t have the extra butter in it or whatever it is. It’s
an acquired taste.”

With that in mind, we decided to do a little taste test. I got some
waffles, some real maple syrup, then three name brand grocery store
syrups… and just to throw everyone a curve, some dark corn syrup.
Then, we got five volunteers at the Environment Report headquaters.
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret, the real maple syrup was
sample number three.

(Taster 1:)”Three is disgusting. I wouldn’t feed it to anyone. Awww,

(Taster 2:) “Three and four both have sort of a smoky flavor to them
which makes me think maybe it was boiled over a wood fire.”

(Taster 3:) “I think one, I think one is definitely store-bought, but
it’s really good. If two is the maple syrup, I’m really disappointed
because it’s awful. I hate it.”

(Taster 4:) “I chose three as the real one.”

(Taster 1:) “Three? If three is the real one, oh, my goodness.”

(Taster 4:) “I know. But, we’re so used to the imitation. And that’s
maybe why we don’t like it, because it is so real in flavor.”

(Taster 1:) “I’m hoping that two is the real one.”

Number two… was the corn syrup. Four of the five volunteers did guess
that number three was the real maple syrup, but none of them liked it

Tom Jameson says a lot of people wouldn’t have anything but real maple
syrup. And a lot of people really enjoy going out to see
demonstrations of tapping trees for the sap and to watch the sap boil
and boil for hours and hours:

“Well, I think it’s a tie back to the good old days. And when people
can kind of make a connection to back to the way things used to be,
there’s something comforting about that.”

So, every year a lot of folks head out into the woods, hauling buckets
and drills and splines, and take advantage of what they think is one of
nature’s sweetest gifts.

For the Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Maple Syrup Season Starts to Flow

Across the Great Lakes region the maple syrup season usually
begins around mid March. The watery sap flows best on spring days when
temperatures rise to the low forties and drop below freezing at night.
Harvesters gather the sap and boil it down to sweet maple syrup. But
the past few years unseasonably warm weather and other factors have
reduced the harvest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Nick Van Der
Puy has the story: