How Sweet It Is

Marcus Corey boils some maple sap in his wood-fired evaporator.
Marcus Corey boils some maple sap in his wood-fired evaporator.

It’s March, which means it’s maple sugaring time. As the days grow longer and the sun grows stronger, the sap starts to run in maple trees across New England. Here at Loon, we make our own syrup.  We’ll be boiling our own sap in front the Octagon Lodge this Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and we’ll be giving out samples.

Loon’s own sugar master, Marcus Corey, will be running the show this weekend. We recently sat down with Marcus, who has been boiling sugar his entire life, and asked him what it goes into a bottle of maple syrup. Besides, you know, syrup.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

Why are we boiling maple syrup?

MARCUS COREY:

A lot of people don’t know how the process works to get syrup on their pancakes – real, true New England maple syrup. So we figured we’d love to tap a few trees here and there by the Octagon Lodge and get this evaporator over there to do maple syrup demonstrations. So Saturdays and Sundays from noon to close over the next month or so we’re going to be showing people how maple syrup is made.

Marcus Corey's wood-fired sap evaporator.
Marcus Corey’s wood-fired sap evaporator.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

Did we get the sap from our own maple trees?

MARCUS COREY:

Loon, like most mountains in New England, is full of hardwood ridges and hardwood groves. In those hardwood groves are a lot of rock maples, hard maples, and they produce a lot of good, sugary sap. It’s a nostalgic New England tradition. That’s what we love about these parts of New England. We want to create nostalgia, and we want people to remember what it was like back then, and how this process works.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

How much sap do you need to make a bottle of maple syrup?

MARCUS COREY:

Depending upon the sugar content of your sap, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Sometimes you’ll have a greater sugar content and be down toward 35 gallons; sometimes you’ll have less of a sugar content and you might be up near 50 to 60 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. If you’re ever wondering why syrup is so expensive, it’s because it takes a lot to process and make it.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

How do you make maple syrup?

MARCUS COREY:

So you take sap from the tree, which is one to four percent sugar. If you have a really high-end process you’re going to use reverse osmosis, you’re going to use a steam-away, and you’re going to use a finish evaporator usually driven by oil. That’s a big industry. Or you’re going to use what we use – a wood-driven evaporator without the reverse osmosis process. What you’re doing is taking the sap from an average of 2 percent sugar to 66 percent sugar. The syrup you put on your pancakes is 66 percent sugar. That’s the process of maple syrup: you’re boiling the water so that the sugar becomes more refined.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

Where did you learn to make maple syrup?

MARCUS COREY:

My grandfather is a dairy farmer in Farmington, Maine, and a lot of dairy farmers would boil sap just because it’s hard to do anything during the mud season. Its hard to farm. You’re just taking care of your cattle, feeding them, and you’re milking still. But they all usually had rock maples on their property. Usually in New England a lot of farms have rock walls where the fields end. A lot of people left rock maple trees on purpose. So now you have a lot of these humongous rock maples along old stone walls in New England. Those produce the best sap, because the bigger the crown of the tree, the better the sap.

LOON MOUNTAIN:

Is there such a thing as good maple syrup weather?

MARCUS COREY:

What sap essentially is doing is photosynthesis. The sun comes out in the spring, it’s warm, it’s above freezing, and it’s causing the sap to run from the ground through the veins of the tree up to its buds to feed the leaves. Then it’s going back down into the ground at night when it’s below freezing. The ground is what produces the minerals and the sugars. The old New England saying is ‘The colder the snap, the sweeter the sap’ because if it got real cold at night, it would drive down the sap low into the ground, gaining more minerals and solids.

Marcus tends to his evaporator.
Marcus tends to his evaporator.

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