Monday, March 31, 2014

Homemade maple syrup

How we make our Homemade Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is super easy to make. Anyone can do it. All you need is a way to gather the sap, and a way to cook it down. One method of gathering sap is somewhat more modern, utilizing T-connections and hoses to create a system which brings all of the sap to a single collection point. Of course, anyone who knows our family, knows that we sometimes like to do things the hard way. Or what we like to call "old school". One of the best christmas presents ever given to me was three years ago when I tore through the carefully wrapped paper to reveal three well used metal sap buckets. In the bottom of the buckets were the same number of spiles, and upon lifting them out of the box, the lids underneath. I couldn't wait to tap my silver maple. Yes "silver maple". Most people think you have to tap sugar maples, but essentially, you can tap any maple. I have even heard of people tapping birch trees and rendering birch syrup. 
This year, we made sure to involve the children in every step of the process. 

First, as you can see in the pictures above, and below, we used an old hand powered drill with a 3/8 inch drill bit to make a hole for the spiles to seat into. When choosing a place for the hole, try to drill above a large root. (the sap is stored underground in the roots through the winter, and when it begins to flow back above ground, It will travel the easiest paths.)  Drill the hole at a slightly upward angle, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep.
Trees are tapped in very early spring when the temperature falls into freezing temperatures at night, and thaws during the day.  This essentially creates a back and forth flow of sap. 

After the holes are drilled, gently tap the spile into the hole. It is not rocket science here folks. You don't need to be the Hulk, and you don't want it to fall out either. Give it a small tug to see if you think that a 2 gallon bucket hanging on it will pull it out or not. (chances are, a few gentle taps on the hammer will do just fine.

Hang the buckets from the small hooks on the bottom of the spiles.

Place the lids on the buckets. These also attach to the spile as well.

Here they are. Awaiting the sap flow.
Check the buckets daily. On good days, you might even have to check them twice.

Here you can see the sap dripping from the end of the spile. The sap is almost like water. In fact, it is only about 1-3 % sugar and the rest IS water. If you dip your finger in the sap and taste it, you can catch a tiny hint of the yummy sugars. The water is evaporated out during the cooking process to create the high concentration of sugars we love and know as "SYRUP". Cooking it down even further, will yield maple candy (but that is for another day.......)

Most of the sap we collect is transferred to empty water jugs and frozen until we have enough to render down into a good batch of syrup. The usual ratio of sap to syrup is this:  It takes 40 gallons of sap, cooked down to make 1 (ONE) gallon of syrup. Early in the season, when the sugar concentration is higher, it will take less, and later in the season it may take more. 
To evaporate most of the water out of the sap, we use an electric skillet. As the sap level lowers, we continually "top off" the skillet with fresh sap. The water evaporates, leaving the sugars behind. The more sap you render down, the higher the concentration of sugar. The main cooking process is done outdoors (can you imagine how sticky the walls would be in the house after you turn 20-40 gallons of water into vapor.).

When the sap is mostly rendered down, or in our case, when daylight is running short and you need to quit for the day, we take the rest inside and finish the syrup off in a large pot on the stove. By doing this, you cut the surface area down dramatically and can control the thickness of the syrup much more easily. Every now and then, turn off the burner and place a small spoonful into the refrigerator for a few minutes to check the thickness. 
We prefer to leave it slightly thinner, it seems to have less crystalizing of the sugars over the course of a few months (if it makes it that long)
This was our first batch of the 2014 sugaring season. About 14 gallons were rendered down to make the 3 cups of syrup in the main picture.
Thanks for checkin us out again. 

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