Pure maple syrup is made only once a year, during a six-to eight-week period beginning in late winter or early spring. Surprisingly, given its unique flavour, pure maple syrup is made by simply boiling down sap collected from the sugar maple tree.
Sugaring season begins when the days become warmer yet the nights remain below freezing. The temperature fluctuation makes the sap flow within the maple trees, allowing farmers to collect it as it travels from the tree’s roots to its crown.
Through small holes or taps that have been carefully drilled into the lower trunk of the tree, the sap can be collected into hanging pails or drawn out using a pumping system. Either way, collecting sap is completely safe for the maple tree, which can live to be over 200 years old. After the sap has been collected, it is boiled so that its sugar content can be concentrated.
The process of increasing the sugar content of the sap from about 2% to 66% is done at a sugar shack. The sugar shack houses an evaporator, which is basically a gigantic 200-gallon pan, used to reduce or boil down the sap to maple syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. Removing this much water requires a great amount of heat and generates clouds of steam. It is for this reason that sugar shacks were traditionally built with a small second roof, called a cupola, which allows the steam to escape as the maple syrup boils.
When the pure maple syrup is ready and its sugar content verified, it is then filtered and packaged in small containers for immediate sale at the farm or local markets, or it is placed in large drums to be sold and packaged later. When night-time temperatures no longer dip below freezing and buds begin to appear on the maple trees, the sugaring season has drawn to a close until the following spring.