BITTNER: It's March — time to collect your maple syrup

Margo Sue Bittner

March is Maple Syrup Month. How much do you know about this delicious, sweet, locally produced product? How about a list of the FAQs?

1. Where do we get maple syrup? Most of the sap to make the syrup comes from the Sugar Maple tree. While there are many varieties of maple trees and they all give sap that can be made into syrup, the Sugar Maple is known for it. In fact, the Sugar Maple is the official tree of New York state.

2. Why is March Maple Syrup month? The cold nights and warmer days as winter turns to spring help the sap to flow.

3. If sap flows in a tree, how do we get it out? Farmers bore a hold about the size of a AAA battery and insert a tap into the tree. Then, they either hang a bucket from the tree to collect the dripping sap or put up tubing that connects a number of taps. To get the sap to the sugar house, they have to collect the buckets. If they use tubing, it sometimes can run all the way to the sugar house.

4. How many trees does it take to get a gallon of sap? On average, three trees will give 40-55 gallons of sap. That is the amount of sap it takes to get one gallon of syrup.

5. Why is there such a difference? Sap contains a lot of water. The water needs to be boiled off in or to get the syrup.

6. What is the process? The equipment used is called an evaporator. In has a large, shallow pan for the syrup and a heating unit underneath. By having a pan of this type, the water can be boiled away evenly, leaving the syrup behind. It is the bottled warm. Once the jar is sealed, it can be stored on a shelf. It should be refrigerated after opening, though.

7. Why is syrup different colors? You’ve seen syrup ranging from light to dark. A number of factors come into play. One is the part of the season. Early in the season, syrup tends to be lighter. Also, tree variety matters. Just like different apples have different flavors, the same can be said for different maple trees.

8. What can be done with maple syrup? Most people think about putting it on pancakes or french toast. It can be dried and spun into a type of cotton candy. It can be molded into candy. It can be used as a sweetener in many recipes. It can be added to cider or hard cider to make a drink.

9. Where is maple syrup produced. Maple syrup is only produced in the Northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. In the U.S. Vermont produces the most maple syrup and New York is second.

10. Where can I learn more about maple syrup? The New York Maple association has a website with videos, printable information sheets and recipes. Go to www.NYSMaple.com to check it out.

11. Is there a place I can visit to learn more? Maple Weekends in New York are March 23-24 and 30-31. Local maple farms will be open so you can see the process. The NYS Maple website has all the information about that as well.

12. What if I want to know about another agricultural product in Niagara County? Email me at AggieCultureNiagara@gmail.com and I’ll answer the question in a future article.

Margo Sue Bittner, a.k.a. Aggie Culture, has been involved in Niagara County agriculture for 40 years. She’s had experience in dairy farming, fruit production and wine agri-tourism. Ask her any question about local agriculture and if she doesn’t know the answer herself, she knows who to get it from. Email AggieCultureNiagara@gmail.com.