Oh dear...well, us PA people are certainty passionate about our pancakes with pure maple syrup, that's no joke. In all kinds of weather, we will wait in line for hours, braving the risk of our stomachs turning and gnawing themselves, all for a huge plate of fluffy pancakes drizzled with one of nature's best treats.
Don't let sleet, snow, bitter cold, tired legs, or elderly ladies keep us from our pancakes. (Jagoff.)
Until this year, I never really had the notion to make my own maple syrup. Then some friends of ours starting tapping their maples in February.
"'tern't nothing to it," they said (basically).
Hmm, thought I. Obviously, my interest was piqued, being a hippie, granola-loving, (etc,etc). freak. Why not harvest some of our maple trees? So I did a little research and learned if you tap the tree properly, you don't hurt the tree, and you get a sweet, all-natural reward. Win-Win.
At this point you may be asking:
What kind of trees can you tap? Any type of maple, but I heard that sugar maples are best.
So when should you start/stop tapping? The sap starts running around mid to late February and stops around mid to late March, depending on the weather. After the buds open and/or the sap is cloudy, your season is done. Ideally, you want warm days (40's, low 50's) and cold nights (20's and 30's) for optimum sap flow. A cold snap will not yield you much and a very warm spell will speed up the process and shorten the sap season.
How many taps should you put in one tree? A healthy tree 10 to 17 inches no more than one tap. A tree 18 to 24 no more that two taps. A tree larger that 25 no more than 3 taps.
How much syrup will I get? About 1/3 gallon of finished syrup per tap.
First, the tools you will need (most are fairly inexpensive or free)
- Sugar taps/sprouts (eBay). You may also need a drill for the sprouts if they are plastic.
- 3 gallon food grade buckets with lids. Ask at the bakery at your grocery store or local bakery. They MAY just give them to you, since they will just throw them out anyway. We had to pay for ours because the bakery got wise and saw a way to make extra dough (har-dee, har, har). That being said, they only charged us $3.00 each. My smarty-pants husband drilled a hole in the top for the tube and handy little window to see the sap. (Thanks Hon)
- Plastic food grade hoses that fit snugly over the sprout and are long enough to reach into the bucket on the ground
- Oven or outside heat source (our friends use a turkey fryer)
- HUGE kettle, like a canning or lobster pot.
- Candy thermometer
- Sterile glass jars with lids
- Time and patience
After you get all your equipment, you can start tapping! Check your trees and check your buckets daily, especially on warm days. If you let your sap set too long, it will spoil.
You will be sad. :(
Boil your sap in the kettle until the candy thermometer reads 218, it has an light amber color, and is slightly thickened. Now, go grab a copy of Anna Karenina, or plan a True Blood marathon; this may take a REALLY long time, like ALL DAY if you have big batch of sap. I suggest you boil some, add more, boil, add more again. Don't worry if you can't boil it all down in one day; you can turn the pot off for the evening, cover it, and start again in the morning. (To CMA, I have to say: Never leave it attended! DUH!)
Once you get it reduced down enough, you can transfer it to a smaller pot so it will boil faster. Take care that your sap doesn't boil down so much that it scorches or becomes pure sugar (unless that's what you want).
WHEW. Ok, finally...time to pour! Take your sterilized glass jar and cheesecloth, secure piece of cheesecloth on the mouth of the jar and pour the syrup into the jar. This will filler out any "stuff" in your sap.
After the syrup is cool, you can put it in another container, like this one with the fancy label:
So, now you can enjoy your own pure maple syrup....without making any old ladies cry.
**Jagoff=not sure I need to translate that.