Making maple syrup (Photo from the Archives of Michigan collections).
Maple Syrup and Weather
Temperatures in Michigan are finally starting to warm up, which means that it’s time for maple syrup producers to get to work. You may not think about the weather when you put maple syrup on your pancakes, but maple syrup production is closely related to the transition from winter to spring. Freezing temperatures at night followed by warmer daytime temperatures cause maple sap to flow through the trees, so it can be harvested by inserting a spout. Once the weather becomes warm enough for the trees to blossom, the sap is no longer good for making syrup.
In this 1881 letter, a girl in Sac Bay (Delta County, Upper Peninsula) writes about tapping trees for maple syrup. (Continue clicking on the image to see a larger version.) From the Elliott Family Papers, MS 76-135, Box 1, Folder 5.
After maple sap is collected, it must be concentrated so the syrup contains sixty-six percent maple sugar. It takes approximately forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is heated in evaporating pans like the one shown in the photograph above until the right sugar concentration is achieved.
Native Americans were Michigan’s first maple syrup producers, having collected and concentrated maple sap long before European settlers arrived. Those settlers were also tapping trees at least as early as the 1800s. In an 1881 letter found in the Archives of Michigan’s collections, the daughter of an Upper Peninsula pioneer family wrote to a friend, “I have got seventeen trees tapped, and we have made about one pint of syrup.” (See letter on the left.)
Michigan producers make an average of ninety thousand gallons of syrup and contribute $2.5 million to the economy every year, and there are maple syrup festivals in towns all over the state during March and April. Visitors to the Michigan Historical Museum’s special exhibit, Lake Effects: Exploring Michigan Weather can see the tools used to tap maple trees and learn about other signs of spring in Michigan. The exhibit runs through August 24, 2014.