If you have a maple tree and a bucket, you can make maple syrup. Each spring, sugarmakers in every corner of Indiana collect maple sap and boil it down to syrup in the first harvest of the year.
Maple Weekend, which celebrates this sweet tradition, took place March 11-12 at 15 sugar camps across the state. Kevin Hart of Maplewood Farms near Brownsville is president of the Indiana Maple Syrup Association, or IMSA.
“Camps around the state open up for the weekend to allow the public to come out and view the operation, walk through the woods, see the Sugar House, enjoy the process.”
Visitors to the sugar camps enjoyed maple syrup, baked goods, and value-added products like maple sugar, cream, and candies.
“Some of them had hayrides. There’s hiking for everybody that wants to go walking into the sugar bush. A lot of people like to just sit around the fire, hang out in the Sugar House, watch it be done.”
Maple Weekend is part of IMSA’s activities to promote the state’s maple syrup production and consumption. The organization worked with Purdue last year to receive a $500,000 grant from the USDA to support those activities.
“Maple syrup is a Hoosier tradition. It’s kind of been forgotten over the last 100 years.”
Hart says the decline has been due to several factors, like a loss of forest cover and decrease in farm labor.
“In 1840, the state of Indiana became the fourth largest producer of maple syrup. It produced the equivalent of 5.6 million gallons of syrup. That’s an amount that’s nearly four times larger than what today’s top producing state, Vermont, processed in 2020.”
Despite the decline, Hart says there are still benefits to producing maple syrup.
“The benefits of maple syrup are tremendous. There’s all kinds of health benefits. There’s all kinds of benefits to the environment. Most of it’s grown in a natural forest. You’re sequestering carbon, you’re amending soils, controlling the water, controlling flooding. You’re providing habitat for wildlife.
“The best way to preserve our natural hardwood forests is to make them economically viable in their natural state, and maple syrup gets that done.”
To learn more about maple syrup production in Indiana and find recipes that use these natural sweeteners, visit the Indiana Maple Syrup Association’s website.