Some call it a woods, others a farm, but maple sugar producers call their production area a "sugar bush," or "sugar camp," and Indiana's second annual Maple Weekend will open sugar camps around the state so guests can see how trees are tapped, how sap gets to the sugar house and how it becomes maple syrup and other maple products.
The Indiana Maple Syrup Association (IMSA) will host Maple Weekend, Sat. and Sun., March 11 and 12, 2017. Some Indiana sugar camps are participating 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday only, others will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
Indiana is the southwestern most state to be part of the North American Maple Syrup Council, and because spring's warmth causes sap to flow, it flows here first. Maple Weekend will be an outdoor activity to beat cabin fever, encouraging guests to meet Indiana syrup producers - called sugar makers, to see where food comes from, how it is produced, and to learn the difference and value between maple and pancake syrup.
"Maple Weekend is an opportunity for people to see what we do and how we do it, and to increase awareness of Indiana maple products," said Dave Hamilton, president of the Indiana Maple Syrup Association and past president of the North American Maple Syrup Council. Based in New Castle, Hamilton is the second in a four-generation syrup-making business started by his father-in-law.
The event will involve sugar makers with sugar camps able to accommodate visitors, however most venues will be rustic, and all will be muddy due to the spring thaw impacting the ground as much as the sap flow. "Guests should dress appropriately for an outdoor, spring event and expect an eye-opening experience," Hamilton said. "Sugar making is a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys being outdoors in the early spring, and we encourage guests to visit two or three sugar camps in their area."
Sugar camps operate differently, so those who have seen one, certainly have not seen them all. Some sugar makers collect sap in buckets and move it to the sugar house by hand, however many use tubing. With tubes running from tree to tree throughout the woods, some sap is gravity fed to a collection point. Others use vacuum pumps to move thousands of gallons of sap to their evaporator - some being top-of-the-line stainless steel machines, others handmade and used by generations of the same family. Sugar making in Indiana tends to be a family tradition, with many in the third, fourth and fifth generations of the activity.
For sap to flow, nighttime temperatures have to fall below freezing, and daytime temperatures have to be near 40 degrees. That daily freeze and thaw is key. Long days of temperatures below freezing causes the sap not to flow, and long days of temperatures above 40 causes the sap to dry up.
Maple sugar production is completely weather-dependent, so what guests will see at Indiana sugar camps during Maple Weekend will vary. Two consistencies will be wonderful stories of tradition, along with the fascinating process of turning 40 gallons of sap into one gallon of syrup
If the sap is flowing, spring is arriving, and it's an ideal time to go outdoors, learn fascinating ways our food is produced through equally fascinating stories from the families producing it. Maybe the best part will be the tasting. Ever tasted maple sap? Ever tasted pure Indiana maple syrup? Everyone can this March.
The Indiana Maple Syrup Association celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015. It is comprised of nearly 150 Indiana syrup producers, with strong representation from the central and northern parts of the state, where larger maple stands grow naturally. Centuries ago, American Indians were the first to make maple sugar on this land now known as Indiana. IMSA welcomes anyone as a member, including syrup-making hobbyists and those simply interested in the history, process and product. There are 14 states in the U.S. Maple Belt, and Indiana "sugar makers," as they are called, produced 12,000 gallons of syrup in 2016. IMSA's largest presence is in the Pioneer Village throughout the entire run of the Indiana State Fair, where since 1993 members have sold pure Indiana maple syrup, maple candy, maple cream, and maple sugar from its "Sugar Shack." Its second-largest annual program is Maple Weekend.