Because of its proximity to Lake Erie and the related lake-effect weather patterns, Geauga County, Ohio, has more than its share of freezing nights accompanied with thawing days in springtime – and that really gets the maple sap running. Ohio’s early spring sap is as sweet as any that flows, and enough of it flows in Geauga County to make it the center of the state’s maple syrup and sugar production.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees in early spring. The sap is harvested by drilling a small hole in the tree and inserting a hollow-centered metal spout or “spile.” Sap flows through the spile and is collected in a metal bucket or plastic tubing that’s plumbed to a large container.
Once gathered, sap is boiled in an evaporator to increase the sugar density. When the sap’s temperature reaches 219 degrees, it officially becomes maple syrup. The syrup is then filtered and ready to bottle. It takes between 40 and 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.
To celebrate this sweet season, each March, a group of Geauga County maple producers host a free drive-it-yourself open house tour called Maple Madness. Fifteen to 25 different sugar houses, ranging from small backyard hobbyists to larger commercial producers, usually participate in the tour. While you’re there, plan to stop at Pancake Town USA in Burton for a good old-fashioned pancake and sausage breakfast. The feed is put on by a group of nonprofit organizations every Sunday in March.
This year’s March Maple Madness Driving Tour is set for March 8, 9 and 15, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
My family’s sugarhouse has been part of Maple Madness for the past two years, and we’re looking forward to many more. We offer visitors fresh samples of our maple syrup (sometimes right out of the evaporator), pancakes and coffee made from hot distilled water, which is a byproduct of the evaporator. Last year, we had more than 150 visitors, from as far away as Wisconsin.