When Gloria Benham retired from Meade County RECC in 2009, she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her time: making maple syrup.
“One of my retirement goals was to learn how to make syrup,” said Benham. “I love maple syrup, and I thought, ‘I want to know how to do that,’ so I did.”
Walking into the small building on Benham’s property that she uses to make maple syrup, one is immediately met with the unique, sweet smell of bubbling sap. The condensation formed from the copious amount of steam produced from the boiling sap drips down from the roof like rain.
Benham doesn’t get much of a break during the 10-hour cook time. From managing the boil, to checking the viscosity of the yield, to feeding the wood fire that burns under the evaporator, there’s always something to check or do. Benham will cook all day, shut the process down for the night, and then go back to cooking the next day until all of her sap is cooked.
She put out 85 taps in Sugar Maple trees this year beginning in January. Every 50 gallons of sap yields 1 gallon of syrup, and Benham has pulled off four gallons of syrup with her operation.
Her operation is relatively small. She depends on gravity to retrieve the sap from her trees, but some larger producers use a vacuum pump system to get sap from the trees. Benham said that she has considered taking her production to a bigger scale by using a reverse osmosis process, which takes water out of the sap and cuts the cook time down significantly.
For now, Benham just enjoys the process, especially when she gets to go to the trees to see how much sap she’s collected and what amount of syrup it yields. She bottles up her syrup and gives it away to friends and family as gifts, but of course, she keeps some for herself.