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Making Maple Syrup

Feb
12

Depending on where you live, now, or sometime soon, is maple syrup time! I planted five sugar maples on my farm last year, but I’ll be long gone from this earth before they are ready to be tapped. However! I have big old maple trees in the woods here–ready for tapping. Maple syrup is a source of natural sugar, and I’ve been really interested in trying it for some time, especially since I realized I had mature maple trees on my farm.
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I didn’t know how to tap a tree, and honestly wouldn’t know a maple tree with its leaves off if it fell on me, so I relied on my trusty hired man Adam to lead the way. Into the still-snowy woods we went–you can see the barn in the distance. We weren’t too far from the house.
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The time for tapping maples is when the temperatures are below freezing at night and well enough above it during the day, like in the 40s. The process is simple. To tap a tree, you need a drill.
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And some kind of pipe.
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See where his thumb is on the drill?
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That’s about how deep you want to go in to the tree.
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About five inches.
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This is 3/4-inch copper pipe, which is pounded into the hole with a hammer. (If using copper, remove from the tree after syrup season is over.) You’ll need something to collect the sap–a bucket or some kind of jug.
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I used a 5-gallon bucket, which was hung on a notch made in the pipe. You can place some type of covering over the bucket, or don’t worry about it too much and just filter it when you bring it in.
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It’s still a little early here, the maple syrup season just coming on, but within a few days, I’d collected half a bucket. I took it inside the house, filtered it by pouring it through a coffee filter, and started the cook in a large pot. (When cooking down large quantities of sap, most people do it outside.)
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Boiling down to syrup is a major reduction process. It took about four to five hours and I went from a large pot to this very small one by the time I had syrup.
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Yep, that’s right, I ended up with less than a jam jar of maple syrup from half of a 5-gallon bucket.
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But two or three buckets can be hung on one tree, if it’s a large tree, and many trees means many buckets. The season lasts four to six weeks, and now that I’ve had my first experiment, I need to get to tapping!

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on February 12, 2013  

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  1. 2-12
    6:29
    am

    We had to filter out a squirrel last year. :( This year we may run tubing to the buckets on the ground with bricks on the lids.
    Your syrup looks so dark for first run.
    The kids love doing this each year. :)

  2. 2-12
    6:39
    am

    Wow, I’m jealous. We can’t grow healthy maples here because of our soils so it’s great to experience it through you. Thank you. How does it taste? Makes me think of Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, loved her books. Adam is amazing, he knows so much and seems like such a nice guy, again I’m jealous. c: Have a super day!

  3. 2-12
    7:05
    am

    We were out walking in NW Connecticut one weekend when I saw a curious thing. It looked like some kind of cable running from tree to tree all along the highway. Took me a while to realize that it was plastic tubing to gather maple sap. No need to gather many buckets when the tubes all run downhill to one bigger collector. It might be worth a look if you end up with more than a few trees tapped.

    Of course, wandering deer might be an issue keeping the tubing in service.

  4. 2-12
    7:26
    am

    Congratulations on your first maple syrup! Didn’t it smell good while it was boiling down!
    Here in Maine it is big business in some areas. We have Maple Sunday in March where the sugar houses hold open house. You can go in and see them make the syrup and taste maple candy, maple baked beans, etc. and of course fresh made syrup.
    In the town where I grew up the Fire Dept. holds a pancake breakfast on Maple Sunday, with real maple syrup of course.
    Many years ago my father would make maple syrup to sell in the spring. Inside the shack where he would boil it down was the most wonderful mapley smells you could imagine! Thanks for reminding me of maple memories.

  5. 2-12
    7:41
    am

    It’s a 40:1 ratio, which those who complain about the price of maple syrup don’t realize! Dad has tapped the neighborhood trees for years and years, and my kids love Papa’s syrup on their waffles. Unfortunately, now that I’m a beekeeper, our years of ‘free’ syrup are over… he wants honey! :-)

  6. 2-12
    8:17
    am

    That’s a wonderful start. The first time we made maple syrup we ended up with about a 1/2 cup of very smokey syrup. You can definitely put a couple of taps in the tree pictured.

    Just one word of caution … if you do all of your boiling down in the house you will put a lot of moisture into the air (35-40 gallons of sap = 1 gallon of syrup, that’s a lot of evaporation) and it can literally take the wallpaper off your walls.

    So great to see this story, enjoy your maple sugarin! It is one of my favorite things about the season!!

  7. 2-12
    8:22
    am

    I had the opptunity to go to a local sugar shack and watch this man’s production a couple years ago. What an experience. His knowledge was amazing. He had a sophisticated stainless steel vat system which uses wood to cook it down. I buy it now every year from him. It’s so great you have sugar maples on your property.
    I remember as a child being at a field trip to a sugar shack. They put our syrup over snow for us like a snow cone. Wouldn’t be able to do that now.
    Enjoy your syrup. Store bought doesn’t compare. :)

    Rhonda

  8. 2-12
    8:42
    am

    Isn’t it amazing, all the things Mother Nature provides for us? :hungry: Gotta go make some waffles now.

  9. 2-12
    8:51
    am

    You can tap any species of maple, including box elders. Also black walnut and hickory too, although I’ve never tried those. You should also filter your syrup before it gets to its final thickness because there is a gray substance that settles out. I suppose you could pour off your syrup when that happens instead. It might be easier than finding the right stage to filter it.

  10. 2-12
    9:48
    am

    That’s awesome!

    I bought some maple syrup from a guy up north last year and it’s nothing like the high dollar bottles of Maple Syrup that I was buying from Costco.
    The flavor is so much better- flavorful and rich.

    I think I need to walk around on this farm and see if we have any maple trees–this is something I could do- Thanks, Suzanne, you’ve inspired me!

  11. 2-12
    10:01
    am

    I want to reinforce Cheryl’s comment. Sugar maple sap has the highest sugar percentage (means boiling away relatively less water), but any maple will yield syrup.

    And last year friends let us taste Black Walnut syrup, which I found as yummy as maple. They make both.

  12. 2-12
    10:17
    am

    I’m curious about the black walnuts,(and others). Is there an age when they can’t be tapped? My neighbor has one that doesn’t produce walnuts anymore and I wonder if it can still be tapped?
    Please enjoy your syrup for me also, I don’t remember the last time I had REAL maple syrup.

  13. 2-12
    10:40
    am

    I will reiterate the warning about moisture – when I was a kid, my parents tapped the maple trees in our yard. They boiled it down on the electric stove in the kitchen. A couple weeks later, the kitchen ceiling fell down – all of that moisture had loosened the plaster. So make sure you have good ventilation.

    Your syrup looks delicious! The best thing about maple syrup is that a little goes a long way. It’s so flavorful you don’t need to use a whole bunch.

  14. 2-12
    11:52
    am

    Thanks for showing us how to do this. I am really excited to give it a try!

  15. 2-12
    12:09
    pm

    Here’s a post I did (well, two actually) about making Box Elder syrup (similar to maple – we don’t have sugar maples out west). It shows you an alternative way to tap trees (I bought taps and my hole is smaller and I used tubing and 1 gallon glass jars). And I give you a set up for a homemade seat of the pants outdoor boiler that doesn’t cost much. Boiling off inside puts a HUGE amount of humidity into your air. I do most of my boil outside, then finish inside. http://milesawayfarm.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/not-eastern-syrup-pt-2/

  16. 2-12
    8:39
    pm

    Hi, I was just reading your maple syrup making post. I love to see when people venture into the maple syrup making process. I’ve been making maple syrup do about 10 years. Small backyard operation, about a dozen trees. When I tap a tree I only drill in Bout 1/2″-1″. I worry drilling in further could hurt the tree over time. I also learned the hard way to boil outside as the enormous amount of condensation took wallpaper down! Here is a link to my blog that I’ve been recording my process for all this time http://dunnmaple.blogspot.com/ If you go to earliest posts you’ll see step by step how I have done it. Your syrup looks very dark. are you sure it’s a sugar maple tree? Thanks for sharing!

  17. 2-12
    9:04
    pm

    Great post – and I’ve also made maple syrup from trees that were in my rural yard a couple of decades ago. I had forgotten about the high moisture! Whew no kidding! My neighbor back then made hers on her wood stove which evaporated the sap slowly and the dry wood heat offset the high moisture. Caution too – on my first batch I missed the crucial point of thickening and BURNT the first batch :hissyfit:

  18. 2-13
    5:35
    am

    I have heard that out in the northwestern states (Oregon, Washington and even Alaska) that Birch Syrup is common. I do not know anything about it except that it takes a higher ratio of sap to make syrup (think I read something like 60:1).
    We make our syrup from predominantly Silver Maples as that is what we have on orproperty. Again the ratio is on the higher end but the end product is delicious. And like wvhomecanner, we too have burnt a batch which is terribly disappointing after all those hours spent in boiling it down. We use a candy thermometer to watch the temp at the end of the process. Can’t wait for the local sugarhouses/restaurants to open here in New Hampshire so we can go out for our yearly maple feast. Aw… and I just remembered that yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, should have had pancakes for supper, with maple syrup of course :)

  19. 2-13
    8:23
    am

    I told hubby bees this year and then we are going to tap trees next year. Hubby had a bee hive once, but bees got a disease so we had to burn the hive and bury it. He also had stuff to do maple syrup. I like the idea of running the tubing down to one container gets heavy collecting big pails to carry.. Have fun!!!!!

  20. 2-13
    12:49
    pm

    I just discovered a new yummy love! Place a split vanilla bean in one of the jars… vanilla maple syrup is wonderful :snoopy:

  21. 2-13
    9:48
    pm

    So what’s the verdict? Is it yummier than store bought syrup:?

  22. 2-14
    3:15
    am

    I did not taste maple syrup until I was nearly 42. I grew up here in the south where most everyone uses cane syrup. Very interesting and involved process like maple syrup. Have never heard of walnut syrup, what does it taste like? Is it sweet? Saw your Viking saucier in the photo Suzanne, don’t you adore that pot? Best pot I’ve ever owned. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

  23. 2-14
    5:30
    am

    You know, you could try same sort of thing with birch trees. Only you would have to drink that sap the same day you collect it. My mom told me they used to drink birch sap when she was a kid.

  24. 2-15
    10:19
    am

    Having grown up in the Northeast, I read this with fond interest and remembering… the term ‘sugar shack’ comes to mind. If one ever gets a chance to go through a full-on, yet original, sugaring operation (think several hundred trees and gallons of production), I’d highly recommend it. There are several around New York state, as well as neighboring states.

  25. 2-21
    11:46
    am

    I remember many years ago my mother let my little brother boil down sap for maple syrup in the kitchen…before he was done the wallpaper was steamed off the walls! Needless to say, the next year he had to do it outside

  26. 2-21
    1:00
    pm

    We have to buy maple syurp down south, but it is my one of my weakness, I can not eat pancakes without it.

  27. 2-24
    10:11
    am

    5 inches into many trees may be a bit too deep. Recommended tapping is within 2-3 inches. If you go too deep into a tree you can damage the heart of the tree. Huge taps as shown in the pictures seems a bit aggressive as most recommended spiles or tubes is 5/16 or 7/16. Those copper tubes are HUGE (and poisonous to the tree) and can damage the tree–making it harder for the tree to heal itself for tapping next year. Remember, trees are living beings just as we are. If you are going to give blood at a blood drive, they don’t use the largest gauge needle–just enough to draw your blood. Just as the sap of the tree is its “blood” we don’t have to drill mammoth holes in the tree, shove some gigantic pipe into so we can hang a 5 gallon bucket under it. Your trees may be 100 years old, but recklessness will help their demise. The trees will give their sap, but also need some of the sap to continue growth for the coming year. Also, copper is toxic to plants (University of Cincinnati/David B Frankhauser). If a harvester of maple syrup drills a hole in a tree that is too large, the tree will spend so much energy closing the hole that its growth will be stunted and its production of sap will decrease over time. In 2004, Brian F. Chabot, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, published research that maple syrup farmers could decrease the amount of stress on trees by drilling smaller holes. The standard size for syrup tap holes is 11 millimeters. Chabot suggested that these holes could be reduced by 7.5 millimeters and the amount of sap drained from the tree wouldn’t be affected. Tap manufacturers are now starting to produce taps of this size. The equipment that syrup harvesters use can be dangerous to maple trees. For instance, some homemade equipment may include copper tubing that is inserted into the tree and used to draw the syrup into a bucket or can. Copper is toxic to most plants. If a farmer leaves the tube in the tree, the tube will poison it. NOTE: We are not here to ravish nature, but to respect it, live in harmony with it so that we can sustain it. I’m not a “tree hugger” but history has shown that indiscriminate and ignorant action has caused a lot of damage that takes years to repair. A bit of knowledge and respect goes a long way.

  28. 2-24
    10:22
    am

    Thanks. As I noted in the post, if you use copper, you should remove it when the season is over.

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