Tapping the sap

Native Americans caught maple tree sap in clay bowls, then cooked it until the water boiled away. This left hard blocks of maple sugar that they could carry as they traveled. It was a good source of energy.
Native Americans taught European settlers how to make maple sugar. This became an important source of income and food for the colonists.
To tap maple sap, people carve or drill shallow holes into the tree trunk. Today, people insert metal or plastic taps in the holes to allow the sap to keep flowing.
Until about 20 years ago, most harvesters gathered the sap in buckets hung over the taps. Most modern producers move the sap through plastic pipes running from the tap to the processing building, called a sugarshack or sugarhouse.

From sap to syrup

When sap first comes out of the tree, it is kind of like sugar water. It is not the thick syrup we are used to.
In the sugarshack, farmers boil the syrup night and day until it turns the right thickness and flavor. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.
The first sap of spring turns into a light-colored syrup. Later in the season, as trees produce more sap, the syrup becomes darker. The darkest syrup has the strongest maple flavor.
The process of tapping the sap and turning it into maple sugar or syrup is called sugaring. In Vermont during the first run of the year, harvesters gather a tiny bit of sap and take it to the oldest person in town. The harvest doesn’t begin until that person says the sap is good.

Just right

If a spring is too warm, trees bud out early. In very warm springs, syrup tastes more like leaves than sugary sap. The best conditions are when nights are below freezing, with days of about 40 degrees.
Maple syrup producers are worried that if the climate keeps getting warmer, sugar maples may no longer thrive in the United States.
Today, Vermont produces more maple syrup than any other state – about 275,000 gallons a year. Quebec province in Canada produces more maple syrup than the United States and the rest of Canada combined, about 5 million gallons a year.