It's maple season! During the sweetest month of the year, the Laurel Highlands celebrates its maple heritage with maple sugaring demonstrations at maple camps, the Pennsylvania Maple Festival, pancake breakfasts and more. From beginning to end, the maple sugaring process is very technical and finicky, but it is most certainly worth the end result. Let's break it down:
Why is the Laurel Highlands a Premier Place for Maple Sugaring?
Somerset County (one of three counties in the Laurel Highlands) is Pennsylvania’s largest producer of maple products. In order to produce maple sugar, there needs to be an abundance of maple trees paired with the perfect climate. Springtime weather in the region is ideal because of its cold nights and warm days. That alternating weather cycle, from freezing to thawing, is what changes the atmospheric pressure in the trees to allow sap to flow out of them.
When Did the First Maple Camp Start?
The first documented maple sugar production in Somerset County was in 1762. Many sugar camps in the region have always been family-owned businesses, passed down through multiple generations, so it is very much a tradition around these parts!
When Does the Maple Sugaring Process Start?
It is ideal to start the tapping process in early spring, when days are warm and nighttime temperatures are below freezing. Back in the day, it was also a time of the year when little was happening around the farm. Cows weren’t being milked and it was before plowing and planting season. This doesn’t mean that maple sugaring was just a hobby, it was certainly a lot of work. In its early years, the process was labor intensive and time consuming. But today, technology has made the process more efficient.
The Maple Sugaring Process
Trees are tapped by drilling a hole for a spile, a tool that resembles a spout. Spiles were originally made of wood, eventually metal and now plastic. The sap drips from the spile and into a keeler, a bucket that hangs from a hook on the spile. “Keeler” is a term specific to Somerset County, influenced by its early German settlers. Today, the sap flows from the spile, through plastic tubing and is deposited in a large tank. Many years ago, farmers would have traveled through the woods, stopping at every tree and manually dumping each keeler into a large tank.
Where Can I Buy Somerset County Maple Products?
With maple production primarily limited to a handful of states located in New England, Somerset County stands out and takes great pride in its maple production. You can find Somerset County maple syrup at local farmers’ markets, stores and, of course, the sugar camps where it is produced! Schedule a visit to a maple camp during your next visit to get a behind-the-scenes experience and sample tasty maple treats!