How To Make Maple Syrup

This is a tutorial on how to make maple syrup.  Maple syrup is from the sugar maple tree and it is found mostly through Vermont, and Maine in the U.S. and in Quebec and Ontario in Canada.  There are lots of facts and interesting details about maple syrup online, so I’m going to go straight to how I make maple syrup.

It’s a seasonal thing.  Syrup comes from the sap of the maple tree and the sap doesn’t start to run until the winter weather warms up a little.  That means that you need a few of those days where the weather goes above freezing (32 degrees in the fahrenheit or 0 in Celcius) in the daytime, but still below freezing at night.  The season usually runs somewhere between mid-February and the end of April.  If you’re lucky, you’ll get six weeks of this transition weather.  If your days run cold and rainy, the sap won’t run.

When the weather looks good, go and tap your trees.  The easiest way is to identify the trees that you are going to tap, in the fall when you can use the leaves to pick the sugar maples.  Tie a ribbon around the ones you want to tap.  Nothing under 10″ should be tapped and larger trees can have two taps.  I had a couple of trees that had three taps in, but they were so large you couldn’t wrap your arms around them!  Sunny days are best and I find that the taps on the sunny side of the tree produce more.  However, the taps must be spread out – about 12″ between each one and around the tree in a spiraling upward pattern.  And each year, you should move the tapping pattern up and around the tree – it can take the tree a year to repair the tap so don’t tap into the same hole.Farm2013MapleSyrup3

I go out and tap about a week before I think it’s really necessary.  The first sap is really wonderful, a light honey colour.  I have found that the colour depends on the temperatures outside and whether it’s raining or not.  But that only affects the colour, not the wonderful taste that is the maple syrup of Ontario.  I use a cordless drill and only drill in 2 inches, less than that you won’t be into the tree enough and more than that you will lose sap.  Use a hammer to put the tap into the tree…voila!  Hang the bucket WITH lid!  Now come back each day and empty the buckets.  You will have to check twice a day for about a week when the sap is really running.

Assembling the things you need at home:  you will need larger buckets at home to bring the sap from the trees to where you are going to boil.  Get the 5 gallons buckets from a local restaurant that will part with them or go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, I got mine at the local Home Hardware.  Note:  this worked for me for small amounts, say 5 trees that aren’t too far from the house.  I started small and grew.  Now I use a four-wheel ATV with a large poly tank on the back to collect the sap and bring it back to the house.

Now you have your sap at home and you will need to boil it down.  I have read that sap boils down 40 to 1, I don’t know if that’s the ratio or not, I DO know that it takes A LOT of sap to fill a tiny jar of syrup.  I, at this point, use a turkey fryer fueled by propane.  Yes, it’s more expensive than using wood that I find on my property, but at this point in my life, I’m way too busy to be wandering around the back 40 looking for kindling wood for the sap fire.  Maybe one day I will build a sugar shack, but not now.  I use the turkey fryer and that works for me, I can do small batches and really control what is happening.  That being said, I put the first sap through a felt filter, these are available at a local hardware store.  Once you filter out the initial debris – twigs etc. you are ready to boil.  Fill the large stainless pot and allow the syrup to come to a full boil,  It can take hours to boil down 30 gallons of sap.  This has to be done outside, if you boil inside you will create so much steam inside the house, your windows will fog and you will have a maple syrup slick to everything – walls, floors, ceiling and everything in between those surfaces!  Farm2013MapleSyrup7

So outside only, however, when the boil gets down to a certain level, I bring it in and finish it in the kitchen.  When the 30 or so gallons boils down to a couple of inches in the bottom of the big pot, say about a gallon, I bring it into the kitchen and pour it into a large saucepan.  I continue the boil, but I can’t say this enough, you have to stand right there and watch it, you can’t walk away at all, because it can boil over so quickly and sugar with that much heat can ignite into a fire!  So stand and watch!

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Continue the boil.  The oldtimers will tell you that when the syrup “threads” it’s ready….hmmm, I went and bought a hydrometer.

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It sounds fancy, but it just measures the density of the syrup.  Some people boil syrup too thick – like honey and some make it too thin – maple syrup isn’t truly maple syrup if it doesn’t strike the red line on the hydrometer.  It’s that simple.  Keep checking and boiling down until ready, then I filter mine one more time, through the cloth filter.  I don’t use the felt one again because the syrup is so thick, it gets caught in the filter and won’t drain down into your jars.  Pour the syrup, while still hot, into your VERY CLEAN AND DRY jars, turn them upside to cool.

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If your syrup turns into “maple sugar” you have boiled it too slowly, put it back over the heat and re-boil it with some sap that hasn’t yet reached it density, it will thin out!

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And that’s it!  That’s how I make my maple syrup, it’s not hard but it is time consuming.  This year, I plan on using wood and a large evaporator.  The method I have described to you here is for small batches.  I really enjoy the personal satisfaction that I get from making my own syrup, so I am going to expand.

If you have any questions, post them in the comment section below, thanks for dropping by!

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