Raise your hand if you like maple syrup. Your hand is up, isn't it? I've been taking an informal poll to gauge people's interest in maple syrup. My unscientific polling suggests that the sweet, sticky substance ranks right up there with puppies, sleeping babies, and trading heels for slippers after a long day. The only thing better than diving into a stack of syrupy pancakes is the pride you'll feel knowing that you harvested and made the syrup yourself; read on to learn how to make maple syrup.
In the late winter and early spring sugar maple trees can be tapped to drain the sap that is coursing through their veins. That sap is boiled down to make maple syrup. Silver, black, and red maples can also be tapped. There is an important ratio to bear in mind: It takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
How to Make Maple Syrup
Taps: There are three types of taps you can purchase. The tap you choose is determined by the receptacle you use to collect sap.
Sap Holder: The sap holder will hang from the tap. Stainless steel or aluminum pails, plastic bags, and tubing are the three most popular receptacles. Generally speaking, folks collecting sap from a few trees choose pails or bags. Commercial operations use tubing that runs from tree to tree and leads to a much larger collection device.
Large pan: to boil down the sap.
Heat source: to boil the sap.
Wool filter with paper liner
On average, the supplies needed to tap a few trees and boil that sap will cost less than $100. (I consider this a bargain because, you know, homemade maple syrup is priceless.) Obviously, the cost increases as you tap more trees. Purchasing used supplies will save you money.
Tap your trees when late winter days are above freezing and nights are below freezing. Warmer days will increase sap flow.
Simply pound your tap into a maple tree that is at least 10-12 inches in diameter. Aiming for the south side of the tree is helpful (but not mandatory) because it is the warmest side of the tree.
I collect my sap at the end of the day when it's liquid and easier to transport. If I collected it in the morning it would be frozen and heavier to move around.
Once collected, sap can be kept for one to two weeks. Keeping sap longer may cause it to go bad. Store it in a cold place, but don't allow it to freeze.
Boil, baby, boil!
Do you like sticky kitchen walls? Me neither--that's why I boil my sap outside on the BBQ grill. Some folks build a large fire pit for boiling.
The pot or pan that you boil your sap in should offer as much surface area as possible. The greater the surface area the quicker the sap will evaporate.
Boil your sap at a rolling boil--like what you use to cook pasta. A high boiling temperature evaporates the sap quickly, but be careful not to scorch your pan or have the boiling sap overflow.
I reduce my sap in small batches because boiling dozens of gallons of sap at once is time consuming and labor intensive. When I add more sap to the evaporating pan I warm it first on my kitchen stove because it will expedite the evaporation process.
There are many ways to know when your sap has reduced to have the proper sugar to water ratio and officially be syrup. Some folks can judge sugar content by drizzling it from a spoon, some use a candy thermometer, and others use a refractometer. I choose a tool called a hydrometer that measures the specific gravity of the syrup.
Filter & bottle
Place a reusable wool filter lined with a disposable paper filter over a large pot. Carefully pour in the syrup to filter out impurities. Having a few extra hands to help with this process is invaluable.
Store your syrup in sanitized glass bottles. I keep mine in the refrigerator, but it can also be frozen.
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image of pancakes with syrup via Shutterstock