Participants in the Oneida Indian Nation’s After School Program recently visited the new Wáhta̲’ Maple Farm production facility located in the old Bingo Hall on Territory Road to learn about the process of making maple syrup and to get a sneak peek on how the first batch is progressing.
Tapping trees for maple sap has been a ceremonial tradition for the Haudenosaunee for generations. Each year, when the temperatures ebb and flow around the freezing point, indigenous people in the northeast know it’s time to tap the maple trees. The maple is the first tree to awaken from the winter and signals the coming of spring.
Maple Production Manager, Brendan Schuler, and Production Supervisor, Ryan Hall, spoke about how the process has become more efficient today. Typically, the ratio of the gallons of sap needed to produce a gallon of syrup is around 43 to 1. But with today’s machinery, specifically with the use of a reverse osmosis machine and an evaporator, the ratio becomes closer to 5 to 1.
Those machines take the excess water out of the sap to get it closer to the sweet syrup. The evaporator heats the sap to around 219 degrees Fahrenheit – 7 degrees hotter than the boiling point of water – and the product is released into barrels where the sugar concentration can be measured. What normally would be an all-day process of constant boiling to filter out the water and sediment becomes just a couple of hours. This also allows more of the sap to be used so waste is cut dramatically.
Brendan and Ryan use a tool called a hydrometer to measure the density of the liquid. Utilizing the Brix scale, they can determine when the syrup has the proper density, which is at least 66% sugar. Once they hit that number, they know are done with the evaporation. All that is left to do is filter the syrup so no sediment is left in the final product.
Youth Programs Coordinator, Donald Gaines (Wolf Clan), said the group in the after school program was excited to see the process – and try a sample!
“Brendan and Ryan did an excellent job of breaking it down for the kids to understand and enjoy,” he said. “All of the kids are looking forward to seeing the outdoor process once the weather is warmer and the fields are dry.”
The first batch is almost complete and bottling has already begun. Wáhta̲’ Maple Farm maple syrup will be available for sale at the Nation’s SavOn and Maple Leaf Market convenience stores, and its other enterprises.