What is my FAVORITE thing to do every year (just before springtime)? To Make Maple Syrup!!! I literally anticipate the moment all year for the day that we tap our trees to make “liquid gold”!!!! There is nothing more satisfying than getting the sap from your trees and then boiling it into the sweet stuff that I obsess over and LOVE! One winter morning, I woke up, and said I want to make maple syrup. Here’s how this sweet journey started….
In February 2014, I tapped my first 11 trees. I used a TON of propane as I boiled down the sap using a friend’s turkey fryer stove. It was AWESOME, but took a REALLY long time. I made 2 gallons of DELICIOUS syrup. For the next 2 years, a friend helped me convert a 55 gallon oil drum into a wood burning evaporator to boil the maple sap. We made about 3 gallons in those years. Using this stove, things were much more efficient, but I loved eating/ making syrup so much, that we wanted to make MORE!!! Mike and decided that we would be making maple syrup until the day we died, so we went a bit crazy. We bought a hobby evaporator, and the Maple Syrup Madness began…. Here’s how the process is done…
Tapping the Trees
(Apparently, I am VERY serious when I tap trees…. LOL!!!!)
The first step to making maple syrup is to tap maple trees once the weather/ temperature is right. You need to tap the trees in order to get the sap which is essentially sugar water. This is what you have to boil down, “evaporate” all the water out of, in order to get maple syrup. The days need to be in the 40 degree range, and the nights need to be below freezing. This allows the sap to “flow” and collect in buckets once tapped. There are several different types of taps you can use, depending on your collection method and preference. We decided to use 7/16″ stainless steel spiles that you “tap” into the tree. I used a drill bit that matched the size of the spiles I was using, drilled a hole in the tree SLIGHTLY slanting down, and hammered in the spile. You want to tap the tree :
- between the southeast and southwest sides of the tree since that’s where the sun will help to warm the sap enough to flow
- about 4′ off the ground and above a large root or below a thick limb. This height will allow the buckets to clear the snow on the ground and make it easy to collect. Sap flows to the roots and limbs, so this placement is key.
- drill in about 1 1/2″ to reach the hearty wood where the sap will be flowing from.
- get all the wood shavings out of the hole so the sap flow isn’t impeded.
You will pull the taps out when the sap starts to get darker, cloudy, or isn’t running anymore. THe tap holes will heal themselves and close up. Don’t worry- you are not harming the tree,
We have made some pretty funny mistakes. We have tapped the trees too high once snow melted and the buckets were hard to reach. We have connected some tubing to spiles and set buckets on top of snow, only to have the snow melt and the tubing not reach the buckets any more. Rookie mistakes…. We got better as the years go on! 🙂
You can use either food-grade plastic buckets, galvanized-steel, or a homemade receptacle of your choice to collect the sap. We used 3-4 gallon plastic buckets for our collection. You want to make sure it is sturdy enough to hold 20-30 lbs of weight as that’s what a full bucket can amount to! HEAVY! Some days only about 1/2 gallon was collected, and others our buckets were overflowing! We stored the collected sap in 3 BIG 32 gallon garbage cans I bought from the hardware store.
NOTE: Depending on the type of maple trees you have (they all yield a different sugar content in their sap), it takes between 40-50 gallons of sap to make ONE gallon of syrup. You will need A LOT of storage.
Boiling Sap to Make Maple Syrup
After collecting oodles and oodles of sap, you will need to boil it to get most of the water out to make “syrup”. This is can/will take a LONG time! You will need some kind of stove so to boil the sap. This is best done outdoors since it generates so much steam. Also unless you are a professional syrup maker with very professional and efficient machinery, you probably want to fuel your stove with wood since that’s the cheapest option. The first year that I made maple syrup, I boiled the sap in a huge pan on a turkey fryer stove. I was able to get propane extremely cheap from a local store but the cost did add up and I constantly had to go get containers filled. This method also took more hours than I would like to admit. The efficiency of this method probably boiled a gallon of sap down an hour. That was WELL over 40 hours of boiling. GEEZ!!!!!! The second and third years we need maple syrup, I got help to convert a 55 gallon drum into a wood burning stove. Mike chopped a lot of wood for the stove so the fuel cost was lower. The stove was much more efficient boiling maybe 2-3 gallons an hour. However, it still took a very long time to boil and used a ton of wood. So this year when we decided to make maple syrup again, and we were sure we were going to be making it for the rest of our lives, we splurged and bought ourselves a hobby evaporator. This stove kicks butt! Our new Mason stove averages boiling 10 gallons of sap an hour!!!!! The efficiency is unreal! Mike still had to chop wood to burn, but we have to use only a fraction of what was needed in past years. This new stove has 3 chambers in the pan which allows convection of the boiling the sap to increase the efficiency of evaporation.
No matter what kind of stove you are using, the procedure is the same:
Raw sap is boiled until it reaches the magic temperature of 7 degrees above the boiling point of water (That equates to 219ºF here in NY) and the correct density according to a hydrometer. This is a relatively inexpensive glass meter that is very beneficial to use, but not necessary. You want to keep 1-2 inches of sap boiling in your pan. This requires the continuous addition of raw sap into the pan until you near the finishing temperature. As the sap boils down, the bubbles will turn smaller, the color will begin to darken, and the sap with begin to thicken. (Be aware that real syrup is NOT as thick as the FAKE syrup you buy in stores. Do not use this thickness as a judge!) When using the turkey fryer and barrel stove to boil sap in the past, we had every pot and pan in my house balancing precariously on the side of the stove in order to warm the sap that would be added to the stove. Warming the sap prevents the boil from being killed when you add it. In the new stove we have, a warming section allows a continuous trickle of warmed sap to enter the pan, not affecting the boil at all!
Finishing the Sap into Maple Syrup
The most tricky part of the entire syrup process is the finishing. You want to be able to control the heat 100% of the time during the finishing process. I draw off and filter the sap through a pre filter from outside pan (into 8QT stainless steel soup pots), and I bring it indoors to finish. I do this when the temperature of the sap is at about 215ºF. As the sap gets closer and closer to the finishing temperature, the bubbles get smaller and smaller and creates this foam-like madness. In ONE split second, the sap at this stage can boil over and cause a COLOSSAL MESS! You need to watch this part closely! I keep a thermometer in the boiling sap to gauge the temperature closely. At this stage, I use a hydrometer to check to see if the sap has the correct density. Once it reaches the correct temperature, and one the density is correct, YOU HAVE MAPLE SYRUP!
Bottling the Syrup
Bottling the syrup can get a bit sticky, so beware! 🙂 Mike built a simple stand out of scrap 2 X 4’s in order to hold the finishing filter in place above a large pan. We use a synthetic filter, but have also used a wool filter in the past. (Somehow mold grew on the wool filter from year two to three, so I had to toss it. 🙁 They both work fine! We use a pre filter too. All this filtering needs to be done to remove impurities from the syrup. When the sap is boiled, niter, or sap sand, is produced and is a residue. This will leave your syrup cloudy and gritty if not removed. Also, impurities from the air, the tree, and critters are best removed to make clear syrup.
This is a fast moving process…….As soon as 219ºF is reached, we turn off the gas and pour the syrup right into the filter stand. The syrup should be hot in order to flow through the filters continuously. We always have another pre filter ready to go to replace the first one. The first one gets a good blast of niter and other impurities so it clogs up fast. As soon as a pot is filled, we switch to an empty saucepan and get ready to bottle the syrup. Using a funnel, we pour the syrup into STERILIZED bottles. Doing this while the syrup is still hot helps it move easily. Once the bottles are filled, cap and you are DONE!
Be sure to leave a comment or question below!
You might like these recipe that use real maple syrup: