Making Maple Syrup

Yes, we made maple syrup – almost three gallons of it, in fact!  That’s one good thing about winter – it’s the time to make maple syrup!  You have to have below freezing nights and above freezing days to get the sap running.  Another reason you can’t make it in spring is because the tree buds make the syrup taste weird — believe me, we’ve tried it.

This year we made two batches in February and one in March, and I am proud to say we didn’t burn any of it! (We weren’t that lucky last year.)

If you’re wondering what it’s like to make maple syrup, read on!

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Maple syrup starts as sap inside maple trees.  The sap tastes like water, only faintly sweet.  It’s hard to imagine how thick and sweet the sap will get when you taste it in the beginning!  Even though it basically tastes like water, it’s still really good and it is quite refreshing.  My sister Megan agrees:

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To get the sap out of the tree, you drill a hole into the wood so the sap can run out.

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Since you can’t attach buckets to a hole, you use either a really-truly-genuine maple syrup spout or make your own.  We did both.  The spout that Megan is drinking out of in the first picture is store bought, and the one in the picture below is a copper tube spout my dad made.

Hammer the spout into the hole you just drilled.

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Attach the bucket quickly, before the sap runs out the spout!

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Now just repeat the process about fifteen more times!  We used seventeen buckets and tapped seven trees (you can put more than one bucket per tree depending on the size of the tree).  After you have tapped all the trees, you wait.  And wait… until…  Yes!  Finally the buckets are full!  You drag out a couple five-gallon buckets for the sap.  Put a cloth over a bucket to strain the dirt out, and pour in the sap.  Even though the sap doesn’t taste very sweet, it sure makes the buckets sticky!  Now is the time to pull out that old, 40-gallon copper kettle and clean it up.  Hang it between two barrels and build a fire under it.  Be sure to put a fire ring or a ring of metal around the kettle to hold the heat in and help the fire reach the sides of the kettle.

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Pour in the sap and let her cook!

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By cooking the sap you are making the plain ‘ol water evaporate and leaving the sweet stuff behind. It will take several hours for the stuff to cook down (*yawn*), so bring a book or two. You can’t just go off and mind your own business though, no sirree, you have to stay by that fire and feed it, oh, maybe every 5 minutes. The fire is awfully hungry, so you have to cut up a bunch of old pallets to help the fire grow and become strong and healthy – and capable of boiling down that sap as fast as possible.

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On one of the wood trips, you notice that the sap is getting lower and that some of it has splattered on the side of the kettle and made sparkly, shiny spots.

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The sap is almost gone from the kettle.  There is just a little bit left in the bottom, and it starts foaming.

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This is the scary part: if you leave the kettle on too long, the maple syrup will burn, and all your hard work will be completely wasted; but if you take it off too soon, you will have to boil it down for an extra long, long, time inside on the stove.  Decisions, decisions!  When you decide to take it off, there is barely anything left.  (40 gallons of sap boil down to just one gallon of syrup!  *collective gasp*  So we actually harvested about 120 gallons of sap from just seven trees!)

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Carefully pour the sap (it’s practically syrup now!) into a big kitchen pan.  Even though it looks like there is barely any sap left, it turns out there is about two gallons – more than it looks!  You’re almost done!  Put a candy thermometer on the pan and watch for the temperature to get to five degrees above the boiling point where you live – in our case, 218-220 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The syrup will be boiling and foaming when it’s done.  You can’t eat it just yet, unless you don’t mind eating ash flakes, dirt, and sediment with your syrup.  You have to strain the syrup to get out all that yucky stuff.  At first we tried using paper towels, coffee filters, and other such things to strain it, but it didn’t go too well, so we got real filters, especially made for filtering maple syrup.  First you put the filter holder on the pan you’re going to strain the syrup into, then you put a thick filter in it, then a thinner one inside of that, and then you pour the maple syrup in.

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Once the maple syrup is strained, you put it in jars and can it, but first – have a taste!  Ah! Sweet and syrupy delight!  Pancakes, anyone?

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I hope you enjoyed “making maple syrup”  Too bad I can’t send you a sample through words… Maybe you’ll have to try making maple syrup yourself next year!

***Allison***

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