The American Indians taught the Colonists how to tap the maple tree for its sap and boil it down to what the Indians called "sweetwater." Canada, New York and Vermont are all known for their superior maple products. The maple-tapping season (called "sugar season") usually begins sometime around mid-February and can last anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. The "sugarmakers" insert spouts into the maple trees (a grove of which is called a "sugarbush") and hang buckets from them to catch the sap. Some companies connect plastic tubing to the spout, running it from tree to tree and eventually directly to a large holding tank where it's stored until ready to be processed. The sap is then taken to the "sugarhouse," where it's boiled until evaporated to the desired degree. Quite simply, maple syrup is sap that has been boiled until much of the water has evaporated and the sap is thick and syrupy. At the beginning of the sugar season, when the sap is concentrated, it only takes about 20 gallons of it to make a gallon of syrup, whereas toward the end of the season it may take up to 50 gallons of sap. Maple sugar, which is about twice as sweet as granulated white sugar, is the result of continuing to boil the sap until the liquid has almost entirely evaporated. In between those two stages at least two other products are made: maple honey (thicker than syrup) and maple cream or butter (thick and spreadable). Maple syrup is graded according to color and flavor. Generally, U.S. grades are: Fancy or Grade AA, a light amber colored syrup with a mild flavor; Grade A is medium amber and mellow-flavored; Grade B is dark amber and hearty flavored; and Grade C is very dark with a robust, molasseslike flavor. Since the processing of maple syrup is labor-intensive, pure maple syrup is quite expensive. A less costly product labeled maple-flavored syrup is a combination of less expensive syrup (such as corn syrup) and a small amount of pure maple syrup. Pancake syrups are usually nothing more than corn syrup flavored with artificial maple extract. Pure maple syrup should be refrigerated after opening. Warm to room temperature before serving.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.