March into Maple Madness

March 11, 2014

Forget robins; contrary to folk lore that declares the red-breasted birds as harbingers of spring, robins are year-round residents. A truer marker of winter’s end is sap flowing in Sugar Maple trees. Maple sap runs in the trees when the daytime temperatures reach 40f or above and fall to freezing at night. A drive along wooded areas reveals that maple syrup activity has begun. Tell-tale signs are pipelines, plastic bags, and traditional buckets attached to trees, each one a method for collecting the sap.

And what a sweet sign it is. Not only is dousing pancakes with pure Ohio maple syrup a healthier alternative to “maple flavored” corn syrup, this gift of nature can replace other sugars (such as brown or white) in many recipes, giving recipes a deeper, more natural flavor.

Although pure maple syrup is costlier to begin with, because it is naturally sweeter less is needed. is one many online resources for recipes. Their website offers these guidelines for swapping out for maple syrup or sugar in recipes. “Maple syrup can be used in the place of sugar for just about any recipe, for it is just a matter of learning the substitution ratio. To replace white sugar with maple syrup in general cooking, it is ideal to use ¾ cup of maple syrup for every one cup of sugar. When it comes to baking, that same amount is used but also be sure to reduce the amount of overall liquid in the recipe by about three tablespoons for each cup of maple syrup substituted. In order to replace honey with maple syrup in cooking, it is an even switch—one tablespoon of maple syrup for one tablespoon of honey, and so forth. It is a good idea to turn your oven temperature down about 25 degrees from the original cooking temperature when trading maple syrup for sugar in a recipe. This is because the maple syrup caramelizes at a lower temperature than sugar does.”

Local Maple Heritage

There is no need to rely on Vermont or Canada for pure maple syrup. Sugar maple trees are abundant in Ohio. 100,000 gallons of syrup are produced in Ohio each year, making Ohio the fourth largest maple producers in the United States. There are several local producers in the Galion area. This year, Erlsten Brothers Maple Products is participating in the Ohio Maple Producers Association’s Maple Madness Driving Tour. On March 15 and 16 the hard-working brothers welcome guests to their sugar bush, where 1,500 trees are connected with a web of piping that brings the maple sap to their sugar house. This is where the action takes place. The sap goes into the evaporator, which is a set of large shallow metal pans used to boil sap into syrup. Adjacent to the evaporator room is the Erlsten’s retail store, which carries maple syrup, of course, as well as their other products, such as bar-b-q sauce made with their syrup. You can find copies of “Favorite Maple Recipes”, a cookbook published by the Ohio Maple Syrup Producers. The book contains tried and true recipes that producers use in their own kitchens.

Erlsten Brothers Maple Products is located at 7630 County Road 46, Mt. Gilead, Ohio. Their retail store is open from 10 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Monday – Friday and on Saturday from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. Steve and Mark Erlsten welcome families to come watch the boiling process in the evenings, but they must call ahead at (419) 362-6275 for directions and to make sure that the brothers are working, as it all depends on the weather.

On Monett-New Winchester Road just south of Galion, Sue and Bob Nelson of Nelsonstrail Maple Products have been busy since late February drilling holes and tapping tubes in them so that syrup can drain from the tree. These tubes are called “spiles”. There is a hook on the end of the spile for holding a bucket to catch the sap, but the Nelson’s prefer to use plastic bags because they feel it is more sanitary. To keep up with the demand for their syrup and specialty product, maple cream, this year the Nelson’s tapped 20 trees more than previous seasons, bringing their total to 220 trees. Like the Erlsten’s, the Nelson’s trees hold two to three taps each, depending on the size of the tree. Along with their maple business, the Nelson’s are also honey producers. For on-site customers, the Nelsons can be contacted by phone at (740) 360-6967. They are regular vendors at NorthSide Farmers market in Galion and at The Farmers Wife store, located at 710 Iberia Rd., Galion.

With the weekend weather forecast predicting warmer temperatures, visiting area maple camps is a wonderful way to experience farming traditions as well as getting some much needed fresh air. The Maple Madness Driving Tour has locations of participants on the Ohio Maple Producers website: