KINSMAN, Ohio — The scent of sweet syrup satisfies the appetite of a Kinsman grandfather who has been producing maple syrup since he was 12.
Dick Sutton is the third generation of maple syrup producers in his family and he couldn’t think of one other thing he would rather do with his time.
Sutton produces syrup from his own taps and that of customers. His system produces syrup from a total of 5,000 taps across Trumbull County.
His sugar shack is a little more high tech than others, and uses a reverse osmosis system, a modern system to fill bottles with syrup and a boiler heated by fuel oil.
“What used to take us 30 hours now takes us three,” Sutton said.
He added he can produce 40 gallons of maple syrup an hour by using the reverse osmosis machine and fuel oil, instead of wood.
He is quick to point out, though, that he still can’t do it without the help of his family. He depends on his brother, Tom; daughter Nikki; son Jared and his wife Sharon for their support in boiling the syrup year after year.
“It’s family thing,” as he points to his granddaughters, Analyse and Sophia, who have showed up to help make the maple syrup.
Sutton said the reverse osmosis machine is the key to keeping the fuel consumption down.
The sap is unloaded from a tank on a truck into a stainless steel tub where it is filtered. A meter is placed on the unloading and filtering station to measure how many gallons of syrup each producer is bringing in so that they can credit the correct amount of syrup once it is boiled. It takes about 37 gallons of raw sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
Then sap is emptied into a bigger storage tub and run through the reverse osmosis machine. Sutton said the reverse osmosis process removes the maple sugar from the liquid and pushes the water into a third holding tub. The reverse osmosis machine is able to remove 80 percent of the water in the sap.
The maple sugar is then pushed through a pipe into the boiler. Once enough liquid has been gathered, the boiler can be turned on.
In less than four minutes, the boiler fills the sugar shack with steam and the sweet smell of maple syrup begins to fill the building.
Changes in production
Another change Sutton has witnessed through his 58 years of maple syrup production is the switch from English tin to the stainless steel used for the holding tanks and boilers.
He said the steel containers help produce healthier and higher quality syrup. In the past, some of the tin was welded with lead, especially when it came to some buckets which were used to gather syrup.
Sutton stopped using the buckets and switched to tubing, which looks like a maze to the general public as it snakes through the woods.
Sutton stretches the tubing from tree to tree where the taps are located. The sap is drawn into a holding tank by a motor using a vacuum.
Sutton said he’s finding this year’s crop to be exceptionally sweet and it has an above-average quality. In addition, the taps are producing a large amount compared to other years.
He attributes the above-average crop to this year’s weather. He said so far there has been a limited amount of sunshine compared to past years and that has helped to ramp up production.
He cautions, though, that producers need to get it processed as soon as possible.
“The faster you get it in, the better the quality of syrup,” said Sutton.
The love of it
When asked why he continues to make syrup, he said it was the easiest question he had been asked. “I just love it!”
Sutton retired from the Kinsman Township as road supervisor and wondered what he would do with his time but now, at age 70, the maple syrup production system fills the void and he couldn’t be happier.
Sutton said some of his best memories are of producing the syrup with wood fires and sometimes making mistakes but learning from them to make the syrup better the next time. Now, he enjoys producing the syrup with his granddaughters, Analyse and Sophia, and lights up when he gets to see them taste the sweet samples.