Each spring, a sweet tradition is celebrated in maple groves, or "sugar bushes," across the Adirondacks.
Adirondack Maple SyruTo make one gallon of pure maple syrup, it takes more than 40 gallons of sap, which must be collected from maple sugar trees, called a sugar bush. Sugar Maple and Black Maple trees are the preferred species for producing maple syrup due to the sap's high sugar content. The sap from Red and Silver Maple trees can also be used to make maple syrup and maple products, though the higher water-to-sugar ratio means that producers need more sap to get the right sugar concentrate.
Maple trees flourish in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada, which hold the monopoly on maple production. New York State produces some of the purest syrup on the market because each batch is held to rigorous standards. Pure Maple Syrup has a sugar concentrate of at least 66%. Natural minerals and antioxidants, including calcium and zinc, can be found in pure maple sugar. Like a vintner's "terroir," maple syrup, once distilled, can exhibit distinctive flavors from the surrounding forests and fields.
How to Make Maple Syrup
By the end of February in the Adirondacks, the daytime temperatures rise above freezing, while the nights dip below 32°. The temperature fluctuations create ideal conditions for sap flow in sugar maple trees.
Among most Adirondack maple producers, the general accepted practice is to place one tap four-and-a-half feet up from the ground in a tree that is 12 inches or greater in diameter. Trees greater than 18 inches in diameter can accommodate two taps if placed correctly. This ensures that trees will continue to produce maple sugar sustainably for decades.
To collect sap, maple producers rig plastic tubing from tap to tap, allowing sap to flow directly into a storage tank at a nearby sugar shack for processing. It's not uncommon for visitors to the Adirondacks to come across this distinctive blue piping running along cross-country ski trails and roadways. Smaller maple sugar producers may even use buckets to collect the sap.
Once the sap is collected, it is transported to a storage tank, fed into an evaporator and heated up to remove excess moisture. This concentrates the sugars, and once the maple syrup reaches a 66% to 67% sugar concentration, it is moved to a finishing pan. As it cools, the syrup is filtered, graded and bottled.
American Maple Museum
Since 1977, the American Maple Museum has preserved New York State's maple legacy in the western Adirondack town of Croghan. The museum proudly displays the history of Adirondack maple syrup production, a heritage that dates back to the Native Americans who first discovered the delicious natural treat - by accident, if the legend is true.
Exhibits are designed to inform and educate visitors through interactive events and seasonal demonstrations. Staffed by volunteers dedicated to ensuring that the history and art of maple syrup is not lost from one generation to the next, visitors are invited to travel along an old-fashioned sap pipeline and learn about the importance of maple syrup to the agricultural industry of New York State. See the different equipment used throughout the centuries to harvest sap and make maple syrup, and shop for maple products at the museum gift shop.
Maple sugaring is an integral part of rural communities in the Adirondacks, providing a sweet reminder that spring is just around the corner. Continuing the legacy, a Maple Queen contest has been held at the museum each year since 1980. Generations of Queens have their photo on display in a special room of the museum, which is also home to the American Maple Hall of Fame. To celebrate the bountiful syrup season, two maple producers are selected each May by the North American Maple Syrup Council to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, ensuring their legacy and upholding a tradition centuries in the making.
Enjoy Adirondack Maple Products
Along the Adirondack Seaway, more than 200 maple producers tap an average of 1,000 trees each. Visitors can tour a traditional wood-burning sugar house and a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis operation in the St. Lawrence Region. The Lake George Region celebrates maple with sugar shack tours, demonstrations and pancake breakfasts. In the northern Adirondacks, stretching to the Lake Placid Region and the High Peaks Region, Maple Weekend marks the true beginning of spring in the mountains.
Don't miss the American Maple Museum in Croghan in the Adirondack Tug Hill Region. Founded in 1977, this museum preserves the history and evolution of the maple syrup industry in North America. Exhibits chronicle techniques used by the Native Americans and the evolution of production.