Making Maple Syrup

Maple buckets on the treesLate February into March…  what do you think of?

After getting the paper cuts and allergic sneezing fits on Valentines Day, and trying multiple times not to repeat Groundhog Day, I think of pending Spring and tapping the trees.

Now some people think of maple syrup as nothing more than a condiment you put on your baked goods.  Growing up however, it meant a whole process, that ended up a wonderfully thick, golden, sweet and tasty spread.  I grew up in North Salem NY.  It was known more for raising horses than raising children, but thankfully we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by open land and woods.  Right next to our home, was the biggest sugar Maple tree I have yet to see bested.  This, along with many others on property, were tapped and collected into buckets to make maple syrup.

So first, if you’ve never tasted real maple syrup, you’re in for an exquisite treat.  While similar to the fake stuff, it isn’t nearly as sickly sweet, but rolls with an undescribable warm goodness you have to try on your tongue, to understand.

The process is far simpler than most people realize.  Basically you drill a hole into the tree, hammer in a tap spigot (which you can get online or at area hardware stores), and hang a bucket off of it to collect it.  Of course you should put a top on, and drill a hole into the top to allow it to drip – otherwise you get too many bugs, or too much rainwater mixed in.  Once you have half a 5 gallon bucket or more, you strain it through some cheesecloth into whatever collection device you have.  I use a very basic, 30 gallon spare garbage bucket.  Now it sounds a bit nasty, but I make sure to clean it first, then line it with a new, also clean garbage bag.  Once you have a decent amount of time, pour it off into a big pot and boil away!  Any worries about bacteria or further nasties get scalded off with the water vapor.

Boiling the syrupNow the professionals use things called evaporators, that take the process to a highly efficient stage.  I myself however, use your basic lobster pot over a contained fire using spare fire bricks and the grate off my outdoor grill.  Not exactly pretty or highly efficient, but it certainly gets the job done.

So once you have it boiling, keep in mind, maple sap collected is little more than all natural mildly sugared water.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% sugar content in the sugar maples and less content in others.  Boil it down at a 40:1 ratio and you get maple syrup (as in, 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup).  The easiest way to tell when it is done, is to note how thick it is as it gets condensed and the water evaporates.  The other more accurate way, it to add 20 degrees onto the boiling point of water on any particular day.  This varies depending on air pressure and weather conditions, but generally it will be done once the sap/syrup reaches 120 degrees.

At our home we’ve collected the mason jars from pasta sauce, and use these to save the syrup.

This past weekend, since I’ve just begun collecting and it is relatively early in the season, I’ve tapped just 3 trees and gotten about 10 gallons of sap.  After an all day fire, and time spent chopping wood and keeping it roaring, we’ve ended up with about 1 and a half 32 ounce jars, or about 3 pints worth.

At every pouring stage you need to filter using cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, which complicates things, but makes it all the worth while when you got a full stack of homemade pancakes and a slow waterfall down the sides of the good stuff.

P.S. – Bite me Mrs Butterworth.

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