Adventures in Making Maple Syrup: Part 4

The time finally came and we set our taps just over a week ago. We placed 15 taps around our property this year. This means we’ve enlisted the help of 9 maple trees to produce sap this year. Thanks to a sharp cold spell with snow we were able to store our sap a bit longer than a week. It’s been busy at our house recently and finding a day at home to boil sap was not easy. Oh – but was it worth it!

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In our hast, I lost track of how many gallons of sap we have collected so far. But I can assure you we had more than 15 gallons for the first boil of the year. In this post I’m going to explain just how boiling sap works.

Boiling happens in two stages. The first and longest part of the process happens outdoors or in our garage; depending on the weather. High winds had us boiling in the shelter of the garage this year. There are many ways to accomplish this task. We read books and blogs and watched a lot of YouTube for ideas on sap boiling set-ups. The possibilities are truly endless. We presently use our turkey friers with a propane heat source. There are two draw backs to this system (which we plan to improve upon at some point). First, the turkey frier pots do not provide a large surface area for evaporation. Second, this method seems to yields a darker syrup since we are continually adding sap to the pot over several hours without drawing off the more condensed surgar. Despite the darker syrup and stronger taste, we are still very pleased with the outcome. We can yield a lighter golden amber syrup with the turkey friers by cooking down the sap without making additions that extend the cook time.

Initially we send a little time tweaking the heat so that we can be sure the sap will not foam up and boil over. Once we have the flame right we are often multitasking while the sap cooks down, checking in on it in regular intervals. However, we have also enjoyed setting around the fire and watching the sap steam under constant observation while enjoying company of friends. Make sure you take many opportunities during this time to deeply inhale the sweet-smelling steam rolling off your cooker. We generally run the turkey frier for 5 – 7 hours depending on the amount sap we collected. Most weekends we’ve cooked 7 – 12 gallons of sap down.

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Once the sap has cooked down to a nice amber color we move the process indoors. Here the sap in placed on the stove top to be boiled harder. They say at approximately 220 degrees the sap will turn to a syrup consistently. However, I’ve generally gone off of the change in bubbling. A denser foaming bubble will begin when the syrup is nearing completion. Have a whisk on hand to help stir down the bubbles and prevent burning during this transition. A candy thermometer or a barometer will help you know exactly when your syrup is at an ideal consistency if you aren’t up for eye-balling it. I make a lot of jelly so I am very comfortable without using a thermometer.

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You will want to have a funnel placed in a clean storage container (I use glass jars) prepared to strain/filter the syrup. This is an important step because it removes niter – a bitter substance which will affect both the taste and appearance of your syrup. You can purchase felt from Leader Evaporator specifically for this task, as I finally did this year. Or you can use a kitchen towel, as I have in the past. Saturate your filter with water prior to straining to help get the syrup running through the clothe. Now you get to watch your beautiful syrup drip, drip, drip into your jar just as the sap had dripped, dripped, dripped from the trees earlier in the week.

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I’d recommend contacting your Ag Extension office for recommendations on safe storage and shelf life of your syrup. At our house, we’ve canned the jars of syrup like jelly and refrigerated after opening. Some folks freeze their stock of syrup. I haven’t done as much research on this part of the process. Please share any tips and information you may have, I’d love to hear them!

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The final boil indoors can be tricky and intense as you wait for the moment when the syrup is just right. However, if you screw it up – as we have – take heart in knowing over cooked syrup becomes maple sugar! All isn’t lost. We enjoyed amazing maple rock candy last year due to an over boiled batch of syrup.

The last part is of course our favorite. I never have a shortage on taste testers. In fact, I was making pancakes at 8:30 last evening so the first boil of sap season could be celebrated by being part of our bedtime snack (in this case, bedtime breakfast). I memorized a pancake recipe years ago when I found myself without Bisquick. Now this recipe is a Saturday morning stand-by for me; I ditched the Bisquick. I will share my pancake recipe below.

Thank you for taking this sweet blogging journey with me. I hope you will be able to yield maple syrup of your own. Some people say making maple syrup is too much effort, they look at me like I’m crazy when they find out we do this. I say take a taste of your trees and decide for yourself. Enjoy!

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Combine 1 1/2 cup flour, 3 TSP baking powder, 2 TBSP sugar and salt in a bowl. Add 1 egg and 2-3 TBSP melted butter (this can be omitted if you are counting calories). Mix in milk until batter reaches a desired consistently. Pour batter onto warmed skillet prepped with butter. Cook on low heat and flip when you see bubble rising up through the hotcakes. Top with maple syrup!

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