It takes 40 gallons of sap from a maple tree and a lot of human work to produce one gallon of that sweet liquid that goes on pancakes, on top of ice cream - and just about anywhere else something sweet is desired.
Making maple syrup is an age-old tradition that really hasn't changed much since American Indians first discovered the process.
Although it's not known which tribe first made maple syrup, it is believed they watched woodpeckers and other animals create holes in late winter and drink sap. From there, they learned to make their own holes and gradually learned to boil the water from the sap to make maple sugar.
Several sources of information agree Indians didn't make much syrup because maple sugar was easier to transport.
With only wooden tools, early Indians used a cooking method of heating rocks in a fire and transferring them to a wooden trough. They continued adding rocks until most of the water had evaporated, a process that could take weeks.
Eventually, the water would boil away, leaving the sugar.
Early settlers learned from Indians to collect sap from trees and improved tapping methods through the years.
Groups of workers would stay about six weeks each late winter and early spring at camps designed for "sugaring."
After collecting sap in wooden buckets and kegs, they used iron kettles over open fires to steam away water and create a thick, brown syrup.
It is said George Washington's maple farm had 3,000 taps and Thomas Jefferson encouraged colonists to make their own maple sugar so they didn't have to rely on "slave sugar" shipped from sugar cane fields.
The terms "sugaring," "sugar bush" and "sugar house," still used today, are derived from the original Americans - native and early settlers alike - who started the tradition.
Today, the process is much the same as it was in the early days, according to information from the Ohio Maple Producers Association website.
Hobby and smaller producers carry buckets of sap to a boiling unit, while medium-sized producers gather sap and haul it to an evaporator.
Large and commercial producers use plastic tubing that collects sap and directs it to a boiling location.
In a rectangular food-grade stainless steel evaporating pan heated by wood or by fuel oil, the time-consuming boiling process removes excess water and condenses the remainder.
Syrup consistency has been reached when the boiling solution is 7.1 degrees higher than the boiling point of water at that time. Water's boiling point varies with barometric pressure. It's usually decided by use of a hydrometer.
After it's deemed complete, syrup is cooled to about 185 degrees and is "canned" into retail syrup containers or transferred to stainless steel barrels for sale in the wholesale market.
The maple production season starts about six weeks after the winter equinox, triggered by temperatures above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night.
A natural sucrose-laden sap begins to circulate through the trees' sapwood.
The sap, or sugars, were synthesized by leaves during the previous summer.
The season lasts three to five weeks.
Local producer Chris Ziegler said the season started in mid-January this year.
While a lot of people started early, he said he kept with the traditional mid-February start but was finished early.
"We threw the calendar out the window," he said. "This year, Mother Nature was nowhere near the calendar. This year, we're already done. The trees will start to bud."
He said Feb. 14 is the usual start date because days start to get longer, which provides enough time for sap to thaw inside the trees and start making its way upward.
The latest Ziegler said he has made syrup was the second weekend in April.
"This warm weather kills us," Ziegler said. "A lot of people like it, but I don't."
He encouraged people to use maple syrup in place of sugar when possible.
"It's all natural," Ziegler said. "Buy as much as you can."
Like Ziegler, some Ohio producers are on the smaller side, producing 50-100 gallons each year. Others make only enough for their own use, and some produce at a commercial level to supplement their annual income.
In Ohio, the website said at least 70 percent is sold directly from the farm. The remainder is either packed in small containers and sold at craft shows, gift shops and farmers markets, or is sold wholesale to retail packers.
Landowners or other people with access to maple trees might be interested in adding maple syrup production to their farm income, the website states, because Ohio consumers demand more maple products than are produced in the state.
Remaining syrup is purchased from other states.
"This fact clearly signals the available market open to yet more Ohio woodland owners who might choose to diversify in the direction of maple products," the website states. "While startup costs may seem significant, rapid recovery of these expenditures is possible due to the expanding local, interstate and worldwide desire for maple products."
"Our maple syrup does much more than sweeten hot breakfast delicacies," the website states. "It tops vanilla ice cream, is utilized in cooking and baking, enhances barbecue sauce, and flavors dozens of commercial food products."
Nutritionally, the website says syrup contains as much calcium as milk. It also is an excellent source of potassium, but is low in sodium. It contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, no fat, no cholesterol and has the fewest calories of natural sweeteners.
Here's how maple syrup compares with carbohydrates to other forms of sugar, in grams per tablespoon: cane sugar, 12; brown sugar, 12; maple syrup, 13; molasses, 16; honey, 17; and Karo corn syrup, 17.
With slight adjustments in ingredients, syrup or maple sugar can be substituted for cane sugar in many recipes.
The association encouraged people to try maple syrup as a sweetener.
"When you do, you will be supporting Ohio agriculture at the township or county level," the website states. "At the same time, you'll encourage that producer to continue producing maple syrup."