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March is busy for maple syrup makers

March is a very busy time for the members of the Michigan Maple Syrup Association as they tap their trees and start collecting sap for production. Many of them also participate in the annual Michigan Maple Weekend, inviting the public to their ‘sugarbushes’ to experience the whole process of making maple syrup.

At Butternut Creek Sugar Shack in Mendon, MI, their season started approximately ten days earlier than normal, providing them with plenty of product for their open house on March 18. They had already made 130 gallons of syrup, working their way to a goal of 200.

“We’ve been cooking up about 60 gallons of sap an hour which makes 5 – 6 quarts of syrup,” owner Terry Moyer said. “This year alone, we have burned three cord of wood. We started cooking on February 7, after tapping the previous two days.”

Butternut Creek joined several area producers to promote this sweet industry for a three-weekend series of regional events. The participating producers offered tours of their sugar shacks; explanations of the ‘boiling down’, or evaporating, process; the opportunity to tap trees; and samples of a myriad of products made from the syrup.

Butternut Creek was prepared to feed several hundred a meal of pancakes and sausage with juice, milk, or coffee. They sold various sizes of maple syrup in jars and jugs with additional flavors of cinnamon and jalapeno. They also had maple cream and the maple leaf-shaped candies.

“I have heard that people really like to use the jalapeno one on chicken while it was being grilled,” Moyer said. The cinnamon flavor makes whatever it is used on taste like a cinnamon roll.

Samples of ‘snow taffy’ were offered as the guests came to the sugarbush. The taffy was a combination of syrup and butter cooked to the ‘soft stage’ and poured onto snow to set.  Moyer prepared another sweet treat by making maple milk. He added some slightly warmed syrup to a glass of milk, stirred it, and presented it to the recipient to enjoy.

Michigan is the seventh largest producer of maple syrup in the United States with approximately 100,000 gallons being produced in the state. Maple syrup is the first farm crop harvested and is considered the oldest agricultural enterprise in the U. S. The maple syrup industry contributes nearly $5.5 million to the state economy on an annual basis.