Wisconsin Maple Syrup: It’s Sweet!
The sugar maple has been Wisconsin’s state tree since 1893, providing us with beautiful colors in the fall and sweet sap in the spring.
The sap run signifies the crossroads of winter’s exit and the longer, warmer days ahead. Spring is also when Wisconsin’s first crop of the new season is harvested. With this annual spring tradition, it is the perfect time to indulge in pure maple syrup and savor the benefits of this liquid gold.
Maple syrup season has a rich history in Wisconsin. Our state ranks fourth in the nation for maple syrup production, producing 265,000 gallons in 2020 from 780,000 taps. The 2020 crop was valued at more than $7.7 million.
To make pure maple syrup, farmers tap maple trees to harvest their sap. The sap best flows from maple trees when the nights drop below freezing and the days are above 32 degrees. This makes early spring, often between February and March, the perfect time to tap maple trees. Sap will then flow from the trees for 20 to 30 days, depending on the weather.
Once trees are tapped, two different systems can be used to collect the sap. The first is a gravity system and, as its name implies, it uses gravity to drip the sap from the tree into a pail. Alternatively, farmers can use a vacuum collection system, which pulls the sap from the tree. The vacuum system typically yields more sap, and during a single tapping session, one tree can produce more than 10 gallons.
The maple sap is then boiled to remove water and concentrate the sugar. It takes around 40 to 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
When the syrup hits store shelves, you may notice a variety of grades. These do not necessarily indicate quality, but instead are related to the coloring and flavor.
The grading scale is largely based on translucence, which measures how much light passes through the syrup. As a general rule of thumb, lighter variations of syrup are produced early in the season during the coldest temperatures while darker syrups are produced late in the season when temperatures rise. The darker the color of syrup, the more intense the maple flavor.
From topping off a stack of fresh pancakes to sweetening coffee and baking sweet treats, the uses for maple syrup are endless. Another way to use maple syrup, other than for breakfast, is to make candy.
There are many different recipes to make candy from maple syrup. Hard or softer candy can be made by boiling syrup. A candy thermometer is recommended to reach the precise temperature, which affects the hardness of the candy. If you want to add some crunch, throw in your favorite nuts and, if you want to sweeten the deal, top it with chocolate.
This year, Maple Syrup Month was officially proclaimed by Governor Evers to be from March 15 to April 15. As Alice in Dairyland, I have been able to gain hands-on experience with this Wisconsin delicacy. On April 19, I tapped the first official maple tree with the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Association (WMSPA) at Leafy Grove Maple in Merrill, Wisconsin.
This annual event is a great way to highlight Wisconsin sugar makers and the versatility of Wisconsin maple syrup. This annual event is open to the public and often includes a sugar bush tour, tree tapping, and a demonstration of cooking equipment.
I also attended the Phelps Maple Syrup Festival and served as a judge for the Maple Syrup Contest. Each syrup had a slightly different color and I was intrigued by the variety of flavors each syrup could have with only one ingredient.
Pure maple syrup contains no preservatives, colorings, or additives and has a low-calorie count. Try to think beyond pancakes and waffles when it comes to this sweet treat. Use it in your next baking recipe, add some sweetness to your salad, or incorporate it into your next meat roast. Learn more at https://wismaple.org/.
Julia Nunes is Wisconsin's 74th Alice in Dairyland