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February 9, 2013

We Made Maple Syrup!

I'm not prepared to call it a raging success... but hey! Look what we did!

The fruit of our labor. That's a half pint jar, folks.

Tapping our maple trees was really a fun project...and it worked!  We've been wanting to try this project for a while - especially since we know folks who make syrup and we just love it. But we either haven't had our act together or didn't have the confidence to try it. But this year is our year.

The best online references we found were Tapmytrees.com and also Our Neck of the Woods Part One and Part Two.

We ordered taps from Lehman's. Of course you can spend a lot of money getting all the gear, but since we don't know what we are doing we just got the metal ones for $3.25. We grabbed the drill bit, a rubber mallet, the taps, a bucket, and marched out there.  A little bit of drilling, a few taps of the hammer, and soon sap was flyin' right out of that tree and into the bucket. We couldn't believe it. After about 5 hours we had a little over 2 gallons of water.. I mean.. sap.

The next morning we ran right into the kitchen and started boiling down the sap. That worked also. Well. Mostly. I was monkeying around with the official candy thermometer and may have heated the syrup a little too much during the final finishing step. But at then end of the day we had just enough syrup for one pancake.

We were thrilled and called it a victory. The syrup was sweet, light, and delicious.

Like most things we like to try our new projects on a small scale before investing too much time or money. We were glad to do our learning on 2 gallons of sap instead of 40. The downside of trying this on a small scale is that you end up with a very small amount of product. The sap has to reduce at a ratio of 40:1 (or more) to become syrup. So if you have 40 gallons of sap - you'll get a gallon of syrup.

The sap came flying out of the tree as soon as we put in the tap!

I know. You're thinking who the heck would do all that work for so little!?! Actually it just wasn't that much work. I think we spent about 15 minutes setting the taps and going back to get the buckets - and we boiled down the sap while we were butchering chickens. So aside from standing over the stove for the last couple minutes - it just wasn't that much work.

Here is what we learned:

1. We can't believe we didn't do this earlier. It totally worked. Everyone should just try it!
2. We should have marked our trees when they still had leaves on them.
3. Next time we will probably have a more elaborate set up then just the cheap taps and an open bucket.
4. I'm not going to try and boil 40 gallons of sap in the house. Wow! We had the fan going and the window open and it was still so much steam! The good news is that the walls and the inside of the windows are now clean from when I had to wipe them down.
5. There is a fine line between usable syrup and something that is kind of like candy.

Now that we have our confidence up we are going to work on our tapping project this week. We'll have freezing nights and sunny days for the next week to 10 days. Apparently these are the proper conditions.

We'll be ready for a lot of sap. We have a bunch of 5 gallon food quality buckets for collecting and storing the sap...and I have several extra big stockpots for boiling it down. We can do this outside on the gas grill so I think we are good to go.

We'll have more results as our week goes along but if you are interested at all - give this project a try.

Happy Saturday everyone! What are you waiting for? Get out there and tap those trees!