Saturday, March 19, 2011

March Maple Madness

Malabar Farm

Ohio is ranked fourth of all states which produce Maple Syrup. So why is it that the majority of us settle for the sugar water we find on our local grocery store shelves? I decided I’m finished with all the imitators and traveled north around 67 miles from Columbus to Malabar Farm State Park. Some of us know of or have read about the farm’s founder Louis Bromfield who’s efforts to connect human, beast and nature is still apparent on the farm. Most of us have never read about Jason Weisley, full-time Park Manager who is responsible for Malabar today. As he kindly walked me though the production process from sap to syrup, we toured the grounds and he made me realize how much time and effort goes into producing my first local choice – 100% Pure Maple Syrup.

Maple trees produce sap

There are many maple tree species native to the U.S., but Sugar, Black and Red are among those that produce the most sap. At Malabar, their 914 acres are rich with Sugar Maples. Near the end of February, the Malabar crew (which consists of only 3 full-time employees) tap their mighty maples hoping for another good season. They drill a small hole into the tree, insert a spile or spout, and attach a can to catch all of the colorless sap. The trees naturally send sap from their roots to give energy to the new buds developing ensuring the leaves will open in the spring. Jason explained that in this business no two years are ever the same. This year, they tapped the trees on February 20th and started collecting sap on the 28th. The season runs only 4-5 weeks on average, but it is all up to our ever unpredictable Ohio weather. When asked if he thought this year would be a good one he remarked, “Ask me in April and I will tell you what kind of year it will be.”

Sap is collected

The sap starts to flow when the weather is freezing at night and above freezing during the day. During Maple Syrup season the Malabar Farm employees collect syrup from their 1,000 taps. (To put it in perspective, some of the big Vermont farms have close to 25,000 taps!) They collect the sap the old - fashioned way by horse and sled, testing the sugar content with a hydrometer. At this point the sap contains between 2%-3% sugar content and the rest is water. After collecting, the sap is stored outside the Sugar Shack until it is ready to be evaporated. Depending on the sugar content, it will take between 35-45 gallons of raw sap to produce 1 gallon of Maple Syrup.

Sap is boiled, turns into syrup

In 1980, the Sugar Shack was built at Malabar Farm as a primary means of educating the public. As you approach the cabin the air smells sweet of Maple Syrup. You enter into a warm room filled with steam and a large rectangular stainless steel pan in which the sap is boiled down into syrup. The sap makes its journey through a series of grooves in the pan and when finished it needs to have a sugar content of 60% to be considered Pure Maple Syrup. In staying true to Mr. Bromfield’s closed loop practices, Malabar recycles its fallen trees as firewood to heat its evaporator. It’s this recycled firewood that gives Malabar’s Syrup a unique slightly smoky flavor that sets them apart from the rest.

Syrup is bottled

The newly evaporated syrup is brought down from the Sugar Camp and right before bottling it is heated to 180° to kill any bacteria that may have formed in the short period in-between. Jason emphasized the importance of the sap going from the tree, to the evaporator, to the bottle as fast as possible to preserve freshness, taste and color. Once the syrup is bottled it can last 4-5 years unopened on your pantry shelf. You can purchase Malabar’s syrup directly from the farm or at either the Malabar Farm Restaurant (about 1 mile east from the farm) or the Mohican State Park Restaurants. Malabar sells around 400 gallons of Maple Syrup each year. At the end of the season, the cans are removed and spiles are taken out, allowing the tree to scab over and heal. Next year, the process will repeat itself in hopes for another good season.

Maple Syrup

The Malabar Farm State Park Maple Syrup (pictured left) traveled roughly 67 miles to Columbus. The first and only ingredient is 100% Maple Syrup. The syrup (pictured right) traveled approximately 422 miles from Cherryhill, NJ where it was processed and distributed. The first ingredient (in a long list) is High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Grades of Maple Syrup

  • Grade A Light Amber – first of the season, lightest in color and maple flavor, most sought after and referred to as “fancy”
  • Grade A Medium Amber – made early to mid-season, light brown in color and mild maple flavor
  • Grade A Dark Amber – made late in the season, dark brown in color and strong maple flavor
  • Grade B – last of the season, very dark brown color and bold maple flavor


  • All natural
  • Fat and cholesterol free
  • Contains polyphenols (plant-based compounds that work as antioxidants)
  • Good source of Zinc (maintains good levels of white blood cells)
  • Excellent source of manganese (mineral that protects immune cells from inflammation and damage)
  • Contains calcium and potassium
  • Is the lowest in calories of all natural sweeteners


Ohio Maple Producers

Maple Oat Walnut Scones


  • ½ cup whole wheat flour
  • ¾ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups oats
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup 100% Pure Maple Syrup from Malabar Farm


  • Heat oven to 350°F
  • In a large bowl, stir together whole wheat and white flours
  • Cut one stick of butter into the flour using a pastry blender (or two knives) until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  • Stir in oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, walnuts, and raisins
  • In a small bowl, whisk together applesauce, cream, egg and Maple Syrup. Add to flour mixture and mix until dough comes together
  • Drop by mounded scoops (an ice cream scooper works well) onto a baking sheet forming 6 scones and leaving a few inches in between each
  • Bake until golden brown, 30-35 minutes
  • Transfer to wire rack to cool
  • Makes: 1 dozen


Unknown said...

I like it Nicki. You know i am still not in full agreement on HFC, but that is a discussion for another day. What is the cost comparison between the two?

A Local Choice said...

Brad, great question and I’m glad you brought it up. Most maple syrups you find on grocery store shelves contain at most 1/10th Pure Maple Syrup. For arguments sake, let just say Mrs. Butterworth’s contains this amount. The Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup at Giant Eagle is $3.79 for 24 ounces. But, since it is only 10% Pure Maple Syrup I multiplied the cost times 10 to get a true cost comparison. If Mrs. Butterworth’s was 100% Pure Maple Syrup it would cost $37.90. A pint of Maple Syrup from Malabar Farm is $12. So, 1.5 pints or 24 ounces would cost $18. When comparing apples to apples Pure Maple Syrup doesn’t seem so expensive compared to the sugar water on the grocery store shelves.

Jerry said...

I enjoyed your first post and am looking forward to seeing what you come up with for future topics. Also, when are you going to make me some more of the scones?

Tamra said...

Nicole - Love the blog. I will definitely be using this as a reference in my search for local products. We have a farmer's market here in Mt. Vernon and there are wonderful locally grown and made products like honey, bread, cheeses and maple syrup.
It's good to be close to Amish Country too. If you want to take a trip up there, let me know and I'll go with you. The cheese alone....yum.

andrea moody said...

Great Blog! We actually just visited Malabar Farm State Park 2 weeks ago with a group from church! It was cold, but great! I guess that's when the sap runs though. I only purchase 100% Maple Syrup, but it was nice to purchase it from the source and support our local suppliers. Great to take the kids . . . they had a blast!

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