Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Maple Time!

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the USA, so what's a girl to do when she moves here? Make maple syrup, that's what!

I found this website:,  and got cracking.

Step 1: Find some maple trees.

I did this last fall, (it's much easier when there are leaves on the tree), and marked them up with bits of string. The best type for tapping is sugar maples because they have the highest concentraion of sugar in the sap, I don't remember which type ours are but they seem to be working okay.

Step 2: Tap trees.

Two weekends ago we went out armed with a cordless drill and and half inch bit and drilled into the trees. We have four spiles across three trees, big trees can take more than one. We pushed the spiles into the holes and immediately sap started flowing out from them. Sap flows when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing in the day. Apparently it doesn't hurt the trees but it does feel a bit mean stealing sap from them!

Step 3: Collect sap.

The spiles come with little hooks to hang buckets from but we're using half-gallon milk bottles to collect the sap, so I improvised with some wire coat hangers and some bungee loops. On a good day the bottles need emptying several times so I had to go out and buy some food-grade five gallon buckets. That first week I was grateful we had a few days where the sap didn't flow because I was running out of buckets. Sap will go bad if it is stored for too long, there are bacteria in it that will start digesting the sugar, which is not helpful when you're trying to make syrup.  Luckily for us the temperatures were low enough to store for a few days until we worked out how we were going to boil it.

Step 4: Boil sap down.

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup so that's an awful lot of water that has to be boiled off. Unless you're trying to strip wallpaper it's recommended that you boil outside. We don't have any dry firewood stacked so I did something I never though I would and bought a propane burner designed for frying turkeys! I found a big stainless pot at Goodwill, strained my sap (to remove little bits of bark etc...) and got boiling. And boiling, and boiling. It took a long time, almost 3 days in fact for about 20 gallons of sap, so for the second batch I bought a catering steam tray insert which has double the surface area of my big pot.

Step 5: Boil the sap down some more.

Once the sap has boiled down quite a lot it's a good idea to bring it inside and finish it off on the stove so you can watch it closely. My first attempt went too far and I had to turn it into maple candy by beating it as it cooled. My second attempt, with the help of a thermometer (it's done when it gets to 7 degrees F above boiling so 219F), produced about half a gallon of syrup. Apparently the syrup gets darker as the season progresses. Vermont currently has its own grading system and I think our first batch would be classed as Grade A Fancy. Hopefully over the next few weeks I will have some different grades to compare so I'll write more about the grading system then. We've had a bit of a thaw and the sap hasn't been flowing the last few days but it's looking like it's getting cold again so fingers crossed there's more to come.

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