Making Sugar From More Than Maples

Air Date:
Heard On The Larry Meiller Show

Tapping maple trees is a well-known activity, but did you know that you can produce syrup from other types of trees as well? Larry Meiller finds out what kinds of trees are suitable, and how to get started.

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  • Look Beyond Maples For Sugaring

    There are few things as delicious as pure maple syrup drizzled over pancakes, or even used as a special ingredient in cooking or baking.

    People who produce their own syrup by tapping trees and processing the sap until it’s that “liquid gold” will say that the process of making it is as addictive as the end result.

    Michael Farrell serves as the director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid, N.Y. There, he taps approximately 5,000 maples, 600 birch trees and a couple dozen black walnut and butternut trees every year. Farrell holds a doctorate in natural resources from Cornell University, and is the author of The Sugarmaker’s Companion: An Integrated Approach to Producing Syrup from Maple, Birch, and Walnut Trees.”

    It was during his academic studies that Farrell got introduced to pure maple syrup.

    “It just so happened that on one of our field trips we got a chance to check out the college’s sugar bush, went to a pancake breakfast there and had their own pure maple syrup, and it was unbelievably delicious. I decided then, ‘I’ve got to try making it myself,’” he said.

    While maple trees are the most common to be tapped for sugaring, birches and walnuts can also be used. Farrell said that the process is very similar to that of tapping maples: “basically drilling holes into the trees in the springtime, collecting the sap and then boiling it down.”

    He added that “if you know how to make maple syrup, you certainly can make birch or walnut syrup.”

    Farrell said that while there are different qualities of the sap that make the processing slightly different, the larger difference is in the flavor. Farrell said that taste tests have shown that people enjoy walnut syrup as much as maple.

    “There was no difference in the likeability scale,” he said.

    Both walnut and maple saps are mainly sucrose, Farrell explained, meaning they caramelize at about the same temperature and develop the similar consistencies.

    Birch is another story. Farrell said that it differs greatly from both maple and walnut.

    “It tastes nothing like maple syrup, nothing like walnut syrup and it has more of a fruity molasses flavor,” he said.

    As a result, Farrell said that the uses are different for birch syrup.

    “It’s nothing that you would put on pancakes. It’s something you’d be cooking with. You’d use it as an ingredient in fine cuisine,” he said.

    Although sugar maples and red maples are seen as the best for sugaring, any of the 120 varieties of maple can be used. Boxelder trees, also known as Manitoba maples, fall into that category. Farrell said they got that alternative name because of their prevalence in the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “Out on the prairie, those are the only maples that will grow. So, they tap those. There are lots of people doing it, and having good success.”

    Farrell hopes that people will give sugaring a try.

    “If you have the right weather and maple trees, or birch or walnut — you can make syrup from lots of different trees,” he said.

    But just keep in mind, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one, delicious gallon of syrup.

    To get hands-on experience sugaring while helping children learn about this aspect of our state’s heritage and culture, interested people can volunteer with the state Department of Natural Resources MacKenzie Center.

Episode Credits

  • Larry Meiller Host
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Michael Farrell Guest

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