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A sweet spring treat

warrengoldswain/iStock/Thinkstock stack of pancakes topped with syrup and blueberries
TASTY TREAT: Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation for production of pure maple syrup.
Commentary: Nothing tastes better on pancakes than real maple syrup.

Everyone has a favorite meal. Perhaps you enjoy a fancy dinner at a nice steakhouse, a casual lunch at a street corner cafe or brunch at a “ma and pa” diner. 

My favorite meal is breakfast. Rarely do I ever skip it, and I usually have more than just cereal.

The reason I love breakfast so much stems from my childhood. Growing up, we always had a big breakfast on weekends, complete with all the fixings. A typical spread included muffins, sausage, toast, eggs and pancakes or waffles. Besides the tradition of a big breakfast on weekends, my family also has the tradition of only topping our pancakes or waffles with pure maple syrup. 

Luckily for my family, and anyone else from Wisconsin who loves pure maple syrup, our state ranks fourth in the nation for production of this sweet and sticky product. Last year, Wisconsin farmers produced 235,000 gallons of syrup to sell across the nation.

Production
To make pure maple syrup, farmers tap maple trees to harvest the sap found within. Interestingly, this practice is only done on a commercial scale in North America. The sap best flows out of maple trees when the nighttime temperature falls below freezing, but the day is warmer than 32 degrees F. This means trees are typically tapped during the early spring, sometime between late February and early April. Sap will then flow from the tapped trees for anywhere from 20 to 30 days, depending on the weather. 

Once a tree is tapped, two different types of systems can be used to collect the sap. The first is a gravity system. As its name implies, due to gravity, sap drips from the tree into a pail. Alternatively, farmers can use a vacuum collection system, which pulls the sap from the tree into a bucket. The amount of sap collected increases when a vacuum system is used compared to a gravity drip. In a single tapping season, one tree can yield more than 10 gallons of sap.

While getting 10 gallons of sap per tree is impressive, you actually need around 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup.

Processing
Maple syrup is made by boiling down the collected tree sap to remove water and increase the sugar content.  Each tapping season and type of maple tree produces different starting sugar concentrations, so some years it can take more or less than 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Once some water has been evaporated away and the sugar density is correct, the pure syrup is filtered, bottled and shipped to stores. It is sold across the country as light, medium or dark amber syrup; each offers a different flavor profile. Typically, the darker the syrup, the stronger its flavor.

Next time you are planning a big “O’Leary-style” breakfast, I encourage you to use pure maple syrup.  Purchasing this product is one way to support our Wisconsin farmers, communities and economy. 

Learn more at wismaple.org.

O’Leary is the 69th Alice in Dairyland.  She is the niece of editor Fran O’Leary.

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