I decided about half way through maple syrup season that I MUST make maple syrup. Spring was taking way too long to get here and I needed to get my hands dirty. Thankfully I decided to do this when there was still sap flowing so I ordered this kit, asked for some help from a fellow homesteader, and got to work. We decided to tap two sugar maples and one red maple since we had three kits to use. The property we live on is loaded with maples but since this was our first time tapping trees we decided to use trees close to the house, and boy am I glad we did! Also there is a beautiful sugar maple next to the house that we could have put all three taps on but the tree had a disease in the fall (note to self-remember to research that!) and we decided to not tap that tree because we didn’t know what was wrong with it nor did we want to stress the tree any further. So 2 trees were out back and 1 in front of the house.
So we tapped the trees and waited. We didn’t have to wait long! The sap started flowing as soon as we put the spiles in. It was amazing. I was emptying sap buckets daily. My notes tell me that we tapped the trees on March 8th in the AM and then by 5PM I had already emptied 4 gallons of sap. And then I emptied again that evening before bed. Initially I saved all the sap in big stainless steel pots in the refrigerator. I continued to collect sap until Thursday when I had collected 20.5 gallons of sap. I was getting anxious because my research told me I shouldn’t keep the sap past 7 days and we were right at the 7 day mark. One thing we didn’t do was build any type of outside evaporator system. There were a couple of reasons for this. First, we are not in our permanent homestead so that makes it a little harder (we live at a flyfishing lodge, and while the owner has been very gracious to us and allowed me to do my homesteading, I don’t want to push my luck). Second, we weren’t sure how this would work out so we didn’t want to do anything more permanent. But hindsight’s 20/20 as they say. So I collected 20.5 gallons of sap and decided I needed to start boiling because the sap was still coming!
Because we live at a flyfishing lodge, we have a commercial kitchen attached to the lodge’s dining room. Our plan was to collect the sap to X point (in this case 20 gallons) and then use the kitchen to boil the sap down. Little did I know that it would take me almost 4 days and over 20 hours to boil it down!! I stood out in that cold, cold kitchen with the exhaust fan and no heat and boiled and boiled. I got a lot of stuff done (I organized my photos, did some crafting, etc.) but it was COLD! And did I mention it took 4 days? So once I got the sap boiled down into a small enough pot I brought that pot into the house kitchen (versus the commercial kitchen). I finished it off there. But because it was my first batch I stopped the boil once it turned to maple syrup. I was nervous about ruining it after I had put so much effort into it! I felt good about it. It tasted good! It looked good, albeit a little thin. That first batch yielded 9 half-pints and 1 almost full pint (I put the pint in the fridge to start using immediately). I water bathed canned the half pints, although I don’t know that it is absolutely necessary. I just felt better doing it.
So then we decided to start the next batch immediately. Not knowing much about syruping I wasn’t sure how much sap I actually needed to really make syrup (you know, can I take 5 gallons and get enough syrup to do something with?). As it turns out you really do need a large amount of sap in order to get enough syrup to do anything with. I just kept adding the sap everyday to that second batch until I had about 20 gallons which took about 6 days to collect. In between this processing time, I asked a friend about syruping and what happens if I leave it in the buckets on the tree and it freezes. It turns out this is a good thing to do so then you have less water to boil off. It was becoming a full time job to collect that darn sap, strain it, and then boil it down until it only filled my smallest pot (boy I wish I was good at estimating how big that pot was…maybe just a couple of gallons). So then I would leave the sap on the tree over night and in the morning we would poke a hole in the ice and drain the sap off through cheesecloth into a huge pot (maybe 5 gallons). And then I would boil it all day. The Mister would boil if I was at work or gone for the day. And then we would repeat the process the next day until we had collected roughly 20 gallons of sap and then I would boil it into syrup.
So the second batch took about 6 days and we boiled roughly 20 gallons and the yield was 3 pints, 6 half-pints, and I refilled the pint in the fridge (because you see those waffles up there? Yep. We used our refrigerator syrup on those yummies!). This time I also felt more courageous and boiled the sap longer than I did the first time which resulted in a slightly darker product and it was thicker than the first batch. It still needed to process longer but again, even though I was more courageous, I wasn’t ready to live on the edge yet.
And then we started the process all over again, almost immediately! This time though the weather was starting to turn warmer for a few days so there was some lag time in between collecting sap. And really I had had enough of syrup season at this point. I kept trying to figure out when to pull the taps (because we were doing the same process as batch 2: collect the sap in the mornings, boil all day until it fit into the smaller pot, and then repeat). I was kind of tired of giving up my limited stove space and kitchen space to the sap (because after batch 1 we were doing all this in the house kitchen). So I made the decision to pull the spiles on March 31st after we had collected about 25 gallons of sap this run. I couldn’t get the syrup on April 1st (it being Easter and all). So on Monday April 2nd and Tuesday April 3rd I boiled, boiled, boiled. And that final product? Heavenly. I wish I had kept going. I really lived on the edge for that last batch and it is so dark, so yummy, and so thick. The Mister says it looks like molasses. That batch yielded 4 pints, 1 half-pint, and I refilled the refrigerator jar (because we had waffles again!).
So our total run yielded 69.5 gallons of sap into 16 half-pints and about 9 pints (it’s hard to measure the one in the fridge since I kept refilling it so I’m considering it conservatively 9). I then cleaned all the equipment with hot, soapy water and let it dry. It’s all tucked away until next year. I also hand labeled all the jars. I would love to have some cute ‘chickens and the librarian’ labels made but that will have to wait a little bit longer. Maybe by canning season I’ll have that all ready to go! What else? I was gifted another 3 sets of tree tapping equipment but I didn’t use it this time. I will next year. And I will live on the edge more next year so I can get that nice dark, thick syrup. It’s the best! I’m loving adding this to my list of things that I know how to do and that I made by myself.
Notes for next year: Tap trees earlier. Find a different way to boil (maybe a turkey fryer outside). Find a different system for the second straining (I used coffee filters and they took forever). Boil longer so I get a better product. Have have cute labels! You can’t forget about the cute labels. It really makes a much better product.
And now I will add a “Maple Syrup” section to my homestead binder so I’ll have my notes for next year. And I also need to do the monthly inventory for the binder as well. I’m off and running to the next project!!