July 12, 2024 Donate

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Hudson Mills Wraps Up Another Maple Syrup Season

By Delaney Krause

A pancake without maple syrup is like bread without butter, boring and bland– but it’s no small feat to create this breakfast delicacy. In fact, behind closed doors, maple syrup production is quite the undertaking.

Thanks to Hudson Mills, one of Southeastern Michigan’s most pristine Metroparks, the mechanics of this historical process are being brought to light. Throughout the month of March, patrons were able to once again attend several different demonstrations at Hudson Mills’ Sugarbush, detailing both the steps it takes to create pure maple syrup and Michigan’s historical and cultural relationship with it.

Visitors to the presentation start inside, learning about the tools, timelines, and temperatures involved in the process. According to Metroparks Interpreter Leanna Morris, the temperature has to be just right for the sap to flow from the trees, and “it needs the freezing nights and the warmer temperatures to create pressure change within the tree.” The production window “in Michigan is typically February through March and lasts around two to five weeks.” She further explains once these external factors align, it’s time to find the maple tree using “the three B’s (the buds, the branches, and the bark).” Next, after locating and ensuring that a tree is a maple, “either a five-sixteenths hand drill or power tools are used to create a hole about one and a half to two inches deep.”

Leanna continues the presentation by explaining that when the sap comes out of the tree, “it is only 2% sugar,” but pure, store-bought maple syrup is “67% sugar. So, it takes quite a bit to get from the watery sap to the golden-brown colored stuff.” In fact, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

While the overall process has remained largely the same since its birth, technology has significantly streamlined it. To get it to the proper sugar content, sap is boiled using a modern take on the indigenous three-pot system. Europeans eventually added a little bit more technology for the gathering of sap. They added metal buckets with lids. Today, bags are used for sap collection.

The modern maple sugar technologies cannot, however, halt climate implications. Stemming from indigenous roots, maple sugaring has been a proud part of Michigan’s heritage for hundreds of years, but Leanna emphasized that climate change stands as a serious threat to its production. “Because of climate change, there have been some seasonal shifts,” she says. “By about 2100, [the range will be] almost completely out of Michigan.” Eventually, however, Canada will likely “have a monopoly on maple syrup.”

The graph below indicates the impact of climate change on maple syrup production. A majority of Michigan contributes to the overall syrup production in the US.

Hudson Mills’ Journey to the Sugarbush program is both an educational and interactive view of Michigan’s maple sugaring history.

Photos by Delaney Krause