The sap was flowing in Pleasant Mount during the Self Guided Maple Tour at Nebzydoski's Maple Farm this past weekend.
The tour focuses on the many local maple syrup producers in the county to give people a chance to see how that yummy syrup is made. In total, 10 area sugar bushes participated in the event.
"It really is a labor of love," said Tom Nebzydoski on Saturday. As of the early afternoon, he said there had been "about 30 people" that visited his sugar house. He "got bit by the bug" to make syrup 13 years ago and continues his production today using some modern equipment to aid in the process.
At the Nebzydoski farm, 20 miles of line criss-cross the mountain and feed into a 1,200 gallon collection tank at the bottom.
While all trees have sap, the sap from the sugar maple tree is used in the process of producing maple syrup. These trees are unique to North America, and the process of converting sap to syrup was discovered by the American Indians. Originally, the American Indians would boil the syrup past the syrup stage to produce sugar, which was easier to store. Pennsylvania produced maple syrup has been a vital part of the commonwealth's history for well over 200 years.
The sugar maple trees are tapped in early spring of each year, which is the start of the maple syrup season. There is only a short window to catch the run of syrup from the tree, which lasts from from mid-February to early April.
The tree is tapped by drilling a small hole into the trunk to allow the sap to flow from the tree. The sugar maples suitable are trees 10 inches in diameter, which are usually between 20 to 40 years old. The hole caused by tapping the tree heals completely in around one or two years.
To get a good run, or flow, of sap, ideal weather conditions of nights of below freezing temperatures with day temperatures just above freezing.
Sap to syrup
Once the sap is collected into a holding tank, it begins it's journey to becoming syrup.
Sap straight from the tree "is about 98 percent water," said Nebzydoski, "and two percent sugar," along with other minerals. To convert the sap to syrup, the water must be removed to concentrate the sweetness. Boiling the sap removes the water and increases the sugar content.
Page 2 of 2 - The technology of reverse osmosis is used to aid in the conversion as well. The technology separates the pure water from the sap. This has a two-fold benefit of increasing the sugar content of the sap and shortening the boiling time.
Sap is boiled in an evaporator. These large, shallow metal pans are filled with sap. These pans can be heated with wood or an alternative heat source to begin boiling the sap.
As the sap begins to boil, the water evaporates and leaves the sugar behind. The result of the decrease in water causes the sap to thicken and turn a rich, dark color. The maple syrup is ready to be bottled when its temperature is seven degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water.
In order to make one finished gallon of pure Pennsylvania maple syrup, it takes approximately 40 gallons of sap. The finished product has a water to sugar ratio of 67 percent sugar to 33 percent water.
When the syrup reaches the desired thickness, it is filtered to remove sugar sand. Sugar sand is what is left over from the boiling process and, if not removed, produces a cloudy syrup.
If you would like to purchase some local pure maple syrup, there are many sugar bushes in the area.