Freshly-tapped maple syrup is a Wisconsin specialty, and it has a long, storied history. Native Americans showed the first settlers how to tap trees, harvest syrup, and boil it.
It is said that one day a great chief pulled his tomahawk out of a sugar maple tree where he had thrown it the day before. His wife left a trough under the tree, and later, found the trough was filled with sap. It looked just like water, so she decided to use it for cooking. She boiled the meat for dinner in the sugary liquid, and it was the best meal they had ever tasted. According to the legend, maple syrup was used from then on to cook with and flavor foods.
Wisconsin is now one of the top states in the nation for maple syrup, producing upwards of 100,000 gallons annually.
How’s it made?
The maple syrup season only last about a month, typically from the end of March to the end of April in Wisconsin. On average, trees will be around 40 years old before you can successfully tap them for sap. Each tree will have just one to two taps, so the tree is never exhausted, and only about 10 percent of a tree’s sap is collected each year—about 10 to 20 gallons of sap.
Maple syrup is bottled and graded by color. The darker colored maple syrup has a stronger flavor. Early in the season, lighter colored maple syrup is produced; this syrup is graded Fancy or Light Amber. As the season progresses, maple syrup gets darker, ranging from Medium Amber to Dark Amber to Grade B. Fancy or Light Amber is generally used for candy making because of it color and sugar composition, while the darker syrup is used mainly for cooking.
Wisconsin’s maple syrup production is influenced heavily by the weather. The maple sap flows best on still, sunny days after a freezing night. Sap is collectible up until the tree begins to bud, but after that, the sap is no longer suitable for making syrup.