MAC Winter 1998 Newsletter

How Does GM Work

GM Regulation and Testing

The Debate About GM

Potential Benefits of GM

Potential Risks of GM

Going Beyond the Headlines

History of Food Biotechnology






 Maple Resources

Massachusetts Maple Producers Assn.

Watson-Spruce Corner Road      Ashfield, Massachusetts 01330

Attn: Tom McCrumm       (413) 628-3912

e-mail:         or website:

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Media Service - Building 7         Cornell Business & Technology Park     Ithaca, New York 14850

(607) 255-2080 Fax: (607) 255-9946

The Maple Syrup Lesson Plan



Amateur Sugar Maker by Noel Perrin, 1992.

Ininatig’s Gift of Sugar: Traditional Native Sugarmaking by Laura Waterman Wittstock, Lerner Publishing Company, 1993.

Maple Harvest: The Story of Maple Sugaring by Elizabeth Gemming, 1976.

The Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott Nearing Schocken Books 1971

The Maple Sugaring Story: A Guide for Teaching and Learning the Maple Industry by Betty A. Lockhart, 1990.

Project Seasons: Hands-on Activities for Discovering the Wonders of the World by Deborah Parella, Shelburne Farms, 1995.

The Sugar Maple by Rosamond S. Metcalf, 1982.

Sugaring by Jessie Hass  William Morrow & Co., 1996. Ages 4-8.

The Sugaring-Off Party by Jonathan London   Dutton Children’s Books, 1995. Ages 4-8.

Sugaring Season: Making Maple Syrup by Diane L. Burns, Carolrhoda Books, 1990. Ages 9-12.

Sugaring Time by Kathryn Lasky & Christopher Knight Alladin Paperbacks, 1986. Ages 9-12.

Maple Sugaring      -  Early History

The Native Americans had been making sugar from the sweet sap of the maple trees long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Most likely the Indians discovered the sweetness of the maple tree by eating "sapsicles," the icicles of frozen sap that form on the end of broken twigs or branches after some of the water has evaporated from the sap.

There are many legends about how maple sugar was first discovered. One Iroquois legend tells how Chief Woksis threw his tomahawk into a maple tree late one winter evening. After he removed it the following morning, the weather turned sunny and warm. Sap began to flow from the cut in the tree. It dripped down into a container at the base of the tree. The sap was used to boil the meat for dinner. As the water in the sap boiled away, the sweet maple taste was left with the meat.

The early European settlers who came to New England made maple sugar in the way that they learned from the Native Americans. The most common early method for collecting this sweet sap was to make V-shaped slashes in the tree trunk and collect the sap in a vessel of some sort. The Native Americans boiled away the water from the sap by dropping hot rocks into containers made of hollowed out logs, birch bark or clay.

The early settlers set up sugar camps in the woods where the maple trees were most plentiful. They gathered the sap in wooden buckets as they went from tree to tree. The sap was then boiled down in a series of large iron kettles that hung over a long open fire. When the syrup thickened in one kettle, it was ladled into the next. Then fresh sap was added to the first kettle. In this way, there was always a kettle full of nearly completed syrup.

When it was finally thickened enough, the liquid sugar was stirred until it began to crystallize. Then it was poured off into wooden molds. These blocks of maple sugar could be broken up or shaved later in the year when needed.

Native Americans of New England mixed the maple sugar with grains, berries and bear fat, traded it or gave it as a gift. The colonists used it as a home-made source of sugar. Some families made as much as a thousand pounds of sugar; the excess was sold or traded for food and other necessary supplies.

Changing Methods & Technology

As early as 1790, the slashing method of tapping the sugar maple tree was replaced with a "spill" or "spile" inserted into a half-inch hole in the tree, which allowed sap to run out.  The early spiles were made of soft-wood twigs, such as sumac, that have a soft center. The center was pushed out leaving a hollow wooden tube. The sap would drip out through the hollow tube into a collection vessel.Over the next hundred years, maple sugar production went through some changes. Metal buckets replaced the wooden ones; metal tanks became available for sap storage. Large flat pans replaced the open kettles for boiling. A contained fire was built under the flat pan in a furnace or "arch," providing a more efficient system and a larger surface area exposed to the fire. Another improvement was the building of shelters for boiling the sap, known as "sugarhouses."

By the late 1800's, a Vermont man had built what he called a maple sugar "evaporator." This specially designed flat pan had channels for the sap to flow through as it boiled. Fresh sap was added to one end of the evaporator, and finished syrup was drawn off at the other end. Today pure maple syrup is still made in evaporators with a similar design.

The Maple Sugaring Season

The Massachusetts maple-production season usually starts in mid-to-late February in the eastern part of the state and at lower elevations in the western parts of the state. At higher elevations in western Massachusetts, boiling may not start until the first week in March. The season lasts four-to-six weeks depending on the weather. Most maple producers finish boiling by mid-April, when night time temperatures remain above freezing and tree buds begin to swell.

Maple Sap

Sap flow is entirely dependent upon the right weather conditions. The tree’s sap-flow mechanism depends on temperatures which alternate back and forth past the freezing point. The best sap flow occurs when night-time temperatures remain in the forties. The cold weather at night allows the tree to cool down and absorb moisture from the ground via the roots. During the day as the tree warms up, the internal pressure builds causing the sap to run from the tap hole or even a broken twig. For good sap production, maple producers must have these alternating days of warm and cold temperatures.

The maple sap that drips from the tree is a clear liquid containing about two percent dissolved sugar. It looks just like water, and has only a very slight sweet taste. The true maple flavor comes out as the sap is boiled. Once collected, fresh sap must be boiled into syrup right away.

Tapping the Tree

Proper tapping does not harm the tree. The amount of sap taken from the tree is a mere fraction of the volume of sap in the tree on any given day.  The sugar maple tree must be at least a foot in diameter before it can be tapped. Most trees can have one or two taps per season and larger trees may have more. Many of the big sugar maple trees in New England have been tapped yearly for well over a hundred years.

 The Maple Syrup

Depending on the sweetness of the sap, it may take anywhere from twenty five to seventy five gallons of raw sap to make a gallon of finished syrup. The usual amount is forty gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. Each tap into a tree will yield about ten gallons of sap over a period of four-to-five weeks. The ten gallons of sap, when boiled down, will yields one quart of finished maple syrup.

By Federal law, pure maple syrup must be graded according to color and flavor. The categories are Grade A light amber, Grade A medium amber, Grade A dark amber and Grade B. As a rule of thumb, the lighter the color, the more delicate the flavor; the darker the color, the stronger the flavor. Grade B is very dark and strongly flavored. One is not better than the other, it is a matter of personal taste preference.

Information for this Maple Sugaring article was adopted from the Massachusetts Maple Producers’ Association Website at

Maple Sugar Facts

Meet The Sugar Maple

The sugar maple, Acer saccharum, is a large tree that reaches heights of up to seventy-five feet or more. Native across most of Eastern North America, the sugar maple is the state tree of New York, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin, and also embellishes the flag of Canada. It can be found as far north as northern New Brunswick and south through the Appalachian Mountain range.

The lobed leaves of the sugar maple are positioned opposite each other on the twigs. Each leaf is four-to-six inches across with three-to-five pointed lobes per leaf. The edge of the leaf is slightly toothed. The leaves are medium-to-dark green in summer, turning a brilliant yellow-to-burnt orange in the autumn.

 The bark of the sugar maple tree is smooth and gray-brown in color in young trees.  As the tree matures, the bark becomes deeply furrowed with irregular flaking ridges.

 The buds of the sugar maple tree are arranged opposite each other on the twig. The terminal or end bud is a quarter-inch long, sharply pointed, cone shaped and brown in color. The buds of the sugar maple differ from that of the red or swamp maples which have red rounded buds.

The flowers of the sugar maple are yellow green in color and the fruit is a "winged helicopter" known as a samara. This horseshoe-shaped fruit spirals from the tree in the fall, and the enclosed seed sprouts when the weather warms.

Homemade Maple Syrup

 If you have only a few sugar maple trees, you can make your own maple syrup and sugar. The basic method has not changed since the Native Americans taught the first colonists how to boil off the water in the sap to get the sweet syrup. It's work, but it is fun and rewarding too.

What You Will Need

To make a wooden spout, select an elderberry stem a little larger than the hole to be filled. Cut the stem to a length of four-to-five inches. Sharpen one end of the stem, so that it will fit into the tap hole. Use a slender rod to push the pith or heart wood out of the center of the stem, and the spout is completed.

A perfectly serviceable container can be made from a gallon-size plastic milk or cider jug. These work well in combination with a wood, metal or plastic spout.   Use a small electric drill or other cutting implement to make a hole in the top of the flat side of the jug. Enlarge the hole so that it can be slipped over the spout.

Choosing the Tree

Be sure to choose a sugar maple tree, also known as a hard maple or rock maple. In Massachusetts, we do not use soft or red maples for sugaring. The tree should be at least twelve inches in diameter for one tap hole and bucket. For every additional eight inches in diameter another tap hole and bucket may be added. A tree twenty-six inches in diameter could have a setting of three buckets. Trees with lots of branches tend to be better producers than those with small tops.

Collecting The Sap

Drill a hole three-inches deep with a 7/16" bit. Make the hole at a convenient height for you or your students. Look for unblemished bark and do not bore directly over or under a former tap hole or closer than four inches from the side of an old tap hole. The hole does not have to be slanted.

Drive the spout in so that it is tight and can not be pulled out by hand, but don't over drive and split the tree.

Hang a clean bucket or container on the hook of the spout. If you have made your own container, fashion a length of wire to serve as a hanger. Be sure to cover the bucket to keep out rain, snow and foreign material.

Boiling The Sap

Make sure the fireplace, wood and pan are ready for the sap.    Once you have enough sap, fill the boiling pan and place it on the fire. Do not fill the pan to the top as it will boil over. A bit of butter or margarine rubbed at the top rim of the boiling pan will help to keep it from boiling over.

As the water boils away, keep adding more sap to the pan. Never have less than an inch of liquid in the pan or it may burn. Pour the cold sap right into the boiling sap. It takes a lot of boiling to make syrup, since it takes about ten gallons of sap to make one quart of maple syrup.

Do not leave an accumulation of sap in the collecting buckets, especially in warm weather. It will sour if left in the sun. Store sap at as cold a temperature as possible, and boil it as soon as possible.

Finished maple syrup will be seven degrees F. above the temperature of boiling water (at your elevation). A syrup or candy thermometer will tell you this. Proper syrup will weigh at least eleven pounds per gallon.

Pour the hot syrup through a felt syrup filter or a double layer of outing flannel. As an alternative, put the syrup in a container and let it cool for twelve hours or more. Sediment will settle to the bottom of the container and the clearer syrup may be carefully poured off. This syrup should then be reheated to at least 180 degrees or almost to boiling before it is poured into containers for final storage.

Pour the hot syrup into clean, sterile canning jars and seal. Fill them very full, and lay the jar on the side while cooling for a better seal. Store syrup in a cool place. A freezer is ideal. Properly prepared syrup will not freeze.

Get a Jump on Spring

One of the best ways to drive off the winter blues is to bring the outdoors inside. On the first of February, as we go to print on this newsletter, my living room is filled with the cheerful golden blooms of forsythia.

We cut the long, arching branches two weeks ago and put them in a warm (not hot) humid location in buckets filled with deep water. The buds quickly began to swell and bloom.

Try forcing branches of forsythia, cherry, vernal witch-hazel, red maple, flowering quince, PJM rhododendron and Cornelian cherry dogwood for a burst of winter bloom.            Debi Hogan


Biotechnology Resources

Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources

Brad Mitchell

251 Causeway Street Suite 500

Boston, MA 02114

(617) 626-1771 Fax: (617) 626-1850


Web Site:

University of Massachusetts

Department. of Entomology

Ag Engineering

University of Massachusetts

Amherst, MA 01003

William Coli (413) 545-1051


California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

P.O. Box 15949

Sacramento, CA 95853

(800) 700-AITC Fax: (916) 561-5697

Web Site:

  • Three Lessons Plans on the web site
  • Where’d you Get those Genes
  • From Genes to Jeans
  • Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
National Council for Agricultural Education

1410 King Street, Suite 400

Alexandria, VA 22314

(800)772-0939 - Fax: (703)838-5888

  • Biotechnology for Plants, Animals and the Environment.


USDA Agricultural Biotechnology

National Agriculture Day

  • Animated Tour of a genetically modified organism

Council for Biotechnology Information

Agricultural Groups Concerned About Resources and the Environment

Council for Agricultural Science & Technology

USDA Economic Research Service

About network

Information for this newsletter was taken from the sources listed above .

Mission: Massachusetts Agriculture ion the Classroom is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) educational organization with the mission to foster an awareness and learning in all areas related to the food and agriculture industries and the economic and social importance of agriculture to the state national and the world.