Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sugar Shack

When it's 15° outside, what do you do if an outdoor sport isn’t on your agenda for the day? Well, you tour a sugar shack, of course.
This past weekend during Maine Maple Sunday, various producers throughout the state demonstrated how syrup is made at their maple houses, also known as sugar shacks.

The procedure for converting tree sap into syrup had never crossed my mind before. So on Sunday, some family members and I visited a small operation called Mike's Maple House in Winthrop. The owner, Mike Smith, gave me the lowdown on how the process comes together from start to finish.
The first phase begins by tapping a maple tree, then attaching a thin blue tube to the tap. The photo below displays antique taps. However, plastic ones are used nowadays.
The sap drains from the tap and winds its way through the blue tubing to a barrel at the other end. Once the barrel is full, it’s transported to the yard outside of Mike’s Maple House (second photo above). The clear sap inside the barrel is ladled into smaller five-gallon buckets for easier handling.
The next phase consists of boiling the sap to eliminate the water that is a natural part of the sap. Mike fires up a boiler by tossing wood logs in the furnace underneath it.
The sap is then poured into the heated boiler. A thick steam rises and continues nonstop as the clear liquid boils. The end result is the familiar sticky, dark syrup used to sweeten a variety of foods.

Next, it's time to check the density of the liquid. A device that looks like a huge oral thermometer is inserted into a slim metal cylinder that has already been filled with hot syrup.
At just the right thickness, the maple syrup is drained from the boiler and eventually funneled into jugs and bottles for marketing.
Cotton candy is also made from pure maple syrup. The photo below shows the fluffy treat without any dye added.

My visit to Mike's Maple Shack turned out to be a fun and educational outing. I highly recommend taking a sugar-shack tour if you ever get the chance.