Maple Sugar Camp

sign made by my cousin Ed.

sign made by my cousin Ed.


Last week my cousin called and invited us down to watch him make maple syrup.  Dave learned the basic process from my Grandpa and through trial and error through the years.   About a year ago he built a small building on his property … his Maple Sugar Camp, which is what we called Grandpa’s little shack in the woods.

Dave's sugar camp

Dave’s sugar camp

When we were kids, we would all gather to make the syrup, my parents and brother, my aunt, uncle, and cousins.    Grandpa’s woods was probably about a mile or so from the house on his property, so we would all bundle up and trek back to the woods.  Grandpa had already done the tapping of the trees.   He had hammered a little “tap” just barely into the sugar maple trees in the woods.  The sap, from which the syrup is made, is located in the outer layer of the tree.  Then he hung buckets under each tap to catch the sap when it “ran”.  Usually in February and March a  thaw would occur that would get the sap running.  Grandpa had to be vigilant and watch the weather and temperature so he would know when it was time for the sap to start running.

Google Images... maple sugar camp

Google Images…tapping the maple sap

It seemed to me that there were hundreds of buckets hanging from the trees in the woods.  I wish I had paid better attention back then to the whole process.  For my brother and I, and my cousins,  who lived a couple of hours away, it was a chance to play and reconnect in the woods.  One of the games we played was to gather up sticks and branches, find several trees that were fairly close together and build little houses or forts by stacking the branches in a formation supported by the trees.  It was great fun and we would admire each other’s “forts” and then I suppose play games from there.  Most of the fun was in the building of your fort.  If you have ever read The Boxcar Children books, you will have a good idea of what I am talking about.  We would gather branches, sticks, leaves, rocks, and anything else we could find that would serve a purpose in our little forts.

While we were off playing, the grownups were working.   Buckets of sap were collected and carried back to the sugar shack.  Grandpa had a cast iron tray that was heated by a fire.   After the sap was filtered, removing any bits of bark, leaves, bugs, or whatever might have fallen into the bucket, it was poured into the iron tray and heated.  This took a long time, depending on the strength of the fire and the conditions of the day. Lots of firewood was needed to keep the fire going, and Grandpa had already taken care of that.

maple sugar camp Google image

maple sugar camp
Google image

The syrup finally began to  boil and thicken as it boiled.  Grandpa and the other grownups would skim the foam off the top of the boiling sap and throw it on the ground.  Several pair of watchful eyes kept an eye on the sap as it cooked.  Timing was everything and having experienced eyes around was a big plus.  When Grandpa determined that the sap was done, it was allowed to cool, then placed in jars for storage.   It was a continual process.  There were actually 2 trays of sap over the fire.  One was where the sap was first heated.  As it reached a certain stage, it was transferred to the next tray where it was cooked until thicker.

maple sap cooks over the fire to become  maple syrup

maple sap cooks over the fire to become maple syrup

No extra ingredients were needed.  Maple syrup is pure and simple.  At least in its composition.  My cousin has improved on the process by using some collection equipment that was not available to my Grandpa.  But for the most part, he cooks it the old-fashioned way.  The trees where he collects the maple sap are almost 30 miles from his sugar camp.  He still collects the sap in buckets (some of them are the same buckets Grandpa used) but hauls it back in a plastic container with hose and filter.   Still he taps the trees himself, collects the buckets by hand, and cooks it the traditional way.   There is a lot of labor involved in making maple syrup the old-fashioned way… it’s definitely a labor of love and a labor full of memories.

Facts about maple syrup:

Maple syrup is thinner than store bought syrup.

It takes about 35 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

100% maple syrup has 50 calories per tablespoon and 20 antioxidants.

Old-fashioned maple syrup has no additives.

  • It takes one gallon of maple syrup to produce eight pounds of maple candy or sugar 
  • A gallon of maple syrup weighs 11 pounds 
  • The sugar content of sap averages 2.5 percent; sugar content of maple syrup is at least 66 percent or more 
  • Usually a maple tree is at least 30 years old and 12 inches in diameter before it is tapped 
  • As the tree increases in diameter, more taps can be added – up to a maximum of four taps 
  • Tapping does no permanent damage and only 10 percent of the sap is collected each year. Many maple trees have been tapped for 150 or more years. 
  • Each tap will yield an average of 10 gallons of sap per season, producing about one quart of syrup. 
  • The maple season may last eight to 10 weeks, but sap flow is heaviest for about 10-20 days in the early spring. (Facts taken from Guide to Pittsburgh, compiled by Albrecht Powell)
Maple syrup label

Maple syrup label


About Life in the 50's and beyond...

Welcome to Life in the 50's and 60's and beyond .... where I write about my childhood memories, music of the 60's and about life in the country. I am a mother, grandmother, farmer's wife, business owner, and retired teacher.
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20 Responses to Maple Sugar Camp

  1. Pingback: Liquid Sunlight Sun Flare -

  2. Really enjoyed this, Ruth! I never had the experience of maple syrup when I was young, but I was tickled when I was able to take our son to an online friend’s home in West Virginia to visit and watch them make maple syrup for a day. Definitely a treat – in more ways than one.


  3. Maxi says:

    Wow! 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. I need to get some Maple syrup.
    blessings ~ maxi


  4. free penny press says:

    Well that was a most interesting read.. i love Maple syrup and never having any that was not store bought I think I would prefer the kind made from tradition & love..


  5. Maple syrup is a staple in my kitchen I use in savory as well as sweet, not just for pancakes my maple syrup. I have always wanted to watch the process, be part of the family events that ways seems to be part it.
    How blessed you are to have this rich history.

    This was a lovely story Ruth, thank you for sharing..


  6. what a nice adventure… glad some of your family is carrying on the tradition… love it!…
    I just remember reading about it in a series of books in Elementary School…


  7. marymtf says:

    All that work. I’m definitelhy going to appreciate maple syrup even more now. My son used to make pancakes for his girls every Saturday morning for breakfast. Yummy with maple syrup.


    • That does sound wonderful… last week I used it on oatmeal, cornbread, and waffles…every bite took me back to a simpler time. We used to mix it with peanut butter to make a delightful sauce for vanilla ice cream.
      There are places that make it commercially, but you still have to collect all the sap….. still a lot of work.


  8. grandmalin says:

    My dad made maple syrup one spring, just as an experiment, to see if he could. The cooking was done inside and all the heat and steam made the wallpaper peel. I guess that’s why it was a one time thing. 🙂 A lot of work, but the syrup was amazing.


  9. Once you’ve had real Maple Syrup, the stuff in the grocery store never meets your needs. We’re planning to tap on Monday. 🙂


  10. This was a lovely memory to share and timely, too. They’re offering maple syrup tours through our park district here in Minnesota (usual sap gets collected starting mid-March). This reminded me to sign us up for one – I like my daughter to know where her food comes from. Thanks for sharing!


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