There’s something in the Indiana sugar water: An inside look at making maple syrup

NEW CASTLE, Ind. (WISH) — Indiana sugar makers are hard at work on the syrup supply for 2021 and this weekend you have the chance to visit a sugar camp and learn all about the process.

For just about two to three months a year, sugar makers take advantage of the freezing nights and warmer days to give us our favorite breakfast condiment, but the trek from tap to table is a long one.

“The process of making syrup is simple, it’s evaporation. The procedure is complicated because of all the steps involved,” Dave Hamilton said.

Hamilton has nearly 60 years of sugaring under his belt and Rutherford Sugar Camp has been running thousands of gallons of sap for 110 years.

“Two drips to a heartbeat is pretty good,” Hamilton said while pointing to a tap stuck into one of this thousands of maple trees.

Typically it takes 48 gallons of sap, or what sugar makers call sugar water, to make just one gallon of syrup. With advances in technology at Rutherford Sugar Camp, Hamilton and his crew can use just 11 gallons of sugar water to get down to that one tasty gallon.

Those advances at Rutherford Sugar Camp include a vacuum system called a sap ladder and reverse osmosis to cut down time before the final stage of cooking.

“We determine when it’s done by weight or specific gravity. Look at that, there’s a red line,” Hamilton said pointing to a tool that looks similar to a thermometer. “It’s not quite ready yet.”

It’s a scientific process with the sticking point of reaching 7.5 degrees above boiling.

It is a team effort and one that’s very time sensitive. The sugar water cannot sit for long before souring.

“I couldn’t do this by myself,” Hamilton said. “Gary is the official whisker. Melvin is the chief canner.”

Kevin Hart is the president of the Indiana Maple Syrup Association. It’s a passion that sweetened his heart much later in life than Hamilton, but is rooted in nature.

“I just love everything about it. I love the trees. I love being out in the woods,” Hart said. “It’s just that it’s an old tradition and it’s strictly a North American tradition. Nobody does this anywhere else in the world, just here in North America.”

Hart says syrup may seems like an indulgence, but it actually has great health benefits.

“Maple syrup is full of vitamins, B12 and magnesium and it’s higher in calcium than milk,” Hart said.

And some say there’s something in the Indiana sugar water.

“We make better syrup in Vermont, okay, let’s just get right down to it. We ship syrup to Vermont,” Hart said.

And others will drive from hours away just to grab a gallon from this sugar shack.

“It’s local, it’s fresh, and it tastes better than anything else I have ever bought,” Sherry Bickel said as she stopped into the Rutherford Sugar Camp sugar shack for her annual syrup supply.

“We think we make about the best,” Hamilton said.

Indiana Maple Syrup Weekend is March 13 & 14. There are about a dozen sugar camps across the state that open their properties up for you to visit. The event is supporting by the Indiana Maple Syrup Association, which also helps Hoosiers who may want to try their hand at sugar making or just learn more about the process.