When you hear the term wood-fired, you may start dreaming of a slice of rustic pizza, fresh from a stone oven with crispy edges and a slight smoky flavor. Unless your maple syrup was cooked in the backyard over a campfire, there shouldn’t be any smoke flavor or wood ashes in your wood-fired maple syrup.
The term wood-fired, as it relates to maple syrup, does not refer to an imparted flavor. Instead, it denotes the type of fuel used to create the fire that boils the maple sap. Wood-fired maple syrup is cooked over a wood fire. This has been the historical maple sugaring process for decades; however, the use of firewood for making maple syrup is now the exception, not the norm. Despite the idyllic imagery of the rustic sugarhouse with stacks of firewood, most of the maple evaporators sold these days are fueled with fuel oil or gas.
The move away from burning firewood in the maple industry is understandable. Harvesting trees and processing firewood is labor intensive. For traditional farmers who do not use reverse osmosis (a process that removes water content by pumping the sap through membranes), it can take one cord of wood to make 25 gallons of maple syrup. A cord is a stack of firewood that measures 4’ by 4’ by 8’, so you can imagine the mountain of firewood required to make hundreds of gallons of syrup. Whether the trees are cut in the forests, or slab wood from lumber mills is used, the process of amassing the year’s firewood is no simple task. It may seem daunting so the lure of burning fuel oil becomes apparent, and sugarmakers often turn to the convenience of oil burners. Rather than toiling in the woods, they can simply flip the ‘on’ switch when it’s time to start the day’s maple syrup boiling.
Fueling a maple operation with wood isn’t easy, but many people consider it to be better for the environment than burning fossil fuels. The EPA recently deemed firewood a carbon neutral source of fuel. That classification is certainly debatable and the impact of the decision will likely have negative implications for the forests and environment. But for the small farms that are burning firewood harvested from their own well-managed forests, there’s a good argument that wood-fired maple syrup is better than oil-fired maple syrup. Many farmers harvest trees that have been damaged or need to be thinned to improve the overall forest health. Good forest management practices allow for harvesting firewood while enabling the forest as a whole to improve and ultimately store more carbon.
Gathering around a wood fire with a blaze roaring is much more enjoyable than standing next to an oil burner. In a traditional wood-fired sugarhouse, it’s exciting when the arch doors are opened up. The sparks fly and the roar of the inferno is matched by the raging boil and billowing steam from the sap above. These are the moments that children’s eyes light up. Visitors pull out their cameras to capture the true essence of the traditional wood-fired process. Sugarmakers offer advice and share stories. These are the rich experiences of traditional wood-fired maple syrup production.
All of the maple syrup sold through Maple Farmers is wood-fired. We’re farmers who enjoy the traditional processes. We rely on our forests and protect our trees. Harvesting firewood makes our forests healthier and reduces our reliance on fossil fuels. We enjoy the hard work, satisfaction and pleasure associated with burning firewood and would not trade that for an oil delivery truck and an on/off switch.