The Differences Between Northern and Southern Maple Syrup Makers

Sandy Hevener talks about the different times for tapping trees and methods of harvesting between northern and southern syrup makers.

| February/March 2000

  • 178-78-1m

  • 178-78-1a

  • 178-78-1m
  • 178-78-1a
Sandy Hevener talks about the differences between northern and southern syrup making.

"A fellow here talking to fellows up there — well, they could be in an awful argument real fast," says Mike Puffenbarger.

He carefully monitors maple syrup boiling inside the Southern Most Maple sugarhouse and details word scrambling between Virginia and Vermont syrup makers. The stuff boiling in his pan is sugar water. A northerner would say it's sap.

"Here, if you call it sap, they think it's gone bad. Up North, it's called 'buddy' when it goes bad," he says. Spurred by spring, a chemical change in the liquid primes buds to bloom and renders the sugar water-or sap, if you're in the North-useless for making syrup.

Timing is also a geographic trick of the trade when it comes to understanding the differences between northern and southern syrup makers. Southerners open or "tap" trees (drill holes and insert spiles or taps) in January or February, while many northerners have to wait until early March.

Northern trees leak, while southern trees run. "If you say the trees are leaking, we go check our lines," says Puffenbarger, referring to plastic tubing strung between trees to siphon sap and transport it downhill to large collection barrels or tubs. Eliminating the need for buckets, such tubing is a time and labor saver in the North, a virtual necessity in the South.

Peter O'Shaughnssy missed gathering buckets of maple sap in the Berkshire Mountains after moving to Virginia. He soon found himself tapping maples set farther apart, and on much more precipitous terrain, than he'd seen back home. The Massachusetts native quickly abandoned the notion of collecting sap in buckets, thereby sidestepping the challenge of carrying full ones down sheer slopes.

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