One of my favorite times of the year just came to an end. Maple syruping!!
Last year we put two taps into a sugar maple on our property. I have no idea how much we got, or what we made, but I was instantly addicted!! If you have never had fresh made, and not store bought maple syrup, it may be something you won’t understand. Each tree, depending on mineral content can produce a flavor of syrup that is slightly different. Ours produce a sweet, vanilla-y, dark maple syrup. It is a real treat in our home and as we filter and bottle, keeping spoons away from the dripping syrup as it is filtering is a real battle.
One of the biggest things I love about this project, is we are all involved as a family, we get outside in cold weather (I am NOT a cold weather person even though I was born and raised in Michigan, (I am also NOT a hot weather person. 72 degrees is where I am the most comfortable) It is truthfully one of the easiest things to do, and yet the most time consuming when it is really flowing. This is why I have not added a single entry in about a month!!
We start early in the year, by identifying the tree before the leaves drop. we get our buckets ( we can actually get these from free from our supermarket bakery and that way we know they are food safe, most hardware stores also have food safe buckets for sale) ready by washing with soap and water and drilling a hole in the side if they don’t have one yet. This allows the drop line tubing to go into the bucket and the liquid inside to be protected from debris. We don’t go through the top, because if it rains the rainwater will fill the bucket.
This year we were able to tap 10 trees, equaling 18 taps. Trees that are 10 inches across can get 1 tap, every additional 10 inches, allows 1 more tap.
We start on the south side and every year move 6 inches around the tree until we make a full revolution in a year or two. We do not retap used holes. We drill holes straight into the tree using a 5/16 inch drill bit, about 1 1/2 inch and put in the plastic tap with drop line attached.
Every day during the flow (which is determined by the tempatures in your area, freezing nights and 40 degree days. Find a week that allows for several of those and you have a tapping week) we go out and check our sap buckets in the evening. The reasaon we do it at night, is the trees draw the water up into them as we close on night, in the day when the temps go above freezing, the water is released with the sugar, this is what we collect.
Once we collect enough it is time to boil. Every day we check the contents of the buckets, fill and empty bucket and being the boil. This year we built an evaporator out of a steel drum. (please excuse my husband’s work space! I believe he thinks better in a mess!!) We were able to get one that had been used for vegetable oil. My husband is the handy one of us and built the evaporator. Last year, I used a slow cooker since we had so little to evaporate. (Yes a slow cooker can do the job as long as you do your final boil on the stove.)
One of the best things about this time of the year is we do it as a family!!
And even the cat joins is!!
Once we get it close to syrup stage, which we measure by temperature as well as sugar content, it is time to take it inside and boil it down while watching. If you do not watch this last stage closely, your syrup can become candy, or worse, the pot boils over and you get sticky syrup all over the stovetop and you lose or ruin your syrup.
One the syrup reaches the correct stage, it is now time to filter. We then place it in a coffee urn, (yep the thing they usually have at luncheons) which keeps it at 180-200 degrees, which is the temperature you need to bottle. Syrup gets bottles in mason jars, sealed and then put away for the year.
This year, from 185 gallons of collected sap, we were able to process almost 5 gallons of syrup. I couldn’t of been happier. It is always a joy to be able to create and put up food for my family! Looking forward to next year and already identifying more trees!!