by Chiots Run
Last year we sugared our maple trees for the first time. I would have done it earlier, but I always thought you needed sugar maples to make syrup - not so. We have a back yard full of red maples. They have less sugar in the sap so it takes a little more sap, and the final product can be cloudy, but it still tastes as delicious as syrup from sugar maples. We also started late in the season, so we only got a few days of sugaring in before the trees budded out. We ended the season with a two pints of syrup and a passion for sugaring!
This year we started the season early by ordering more spiles and brushing up on our skills by reading a few books before the season started. If you're interested in sugaring your maples I'd recommend reading: Backyard Sugarin': A Complete How-To Guide or Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup or this article from the Ohio State University Extension. These are all geared towards small scale home sugaring operations, explaining how to do it without spending much money.
We tapped our trees on February 21 this year. It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures climbed slightly above freezing. Not quite prime sugaring season yet, but we wanted to get some of our trees tapped since tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be close to 40. We were just going to put one tap in the tree we can see from the kitchen window, so we could watch it. When it started flowing we would install the rest of the taps. As soon as we tapped the tree a little drop of sap appeared on the end of the spile. It was warm enough yesterday to start the sap flowing.
Since the sap was flowing we put in all 12 taps that we had on hand, then a few days later we added 10 more taps. The first day, the taps produced about a gallon of sap by dusk. We stored the sap outside in a few huge canning kettles to keep it cold so it wouldn't spoil. The weather was not great for a few days, but then at the beginning of March it started warming up during the day producing good sap flow. It was sunny and warm during the day (well 40 degrees which is warm this time of year).
The mornings were frosty, with temps down in the teens. All the sap that was flowing the day before stopped and was frozen in the spiles. It didn’t take long for them to thaw out with the sun and warmth and start flowing again. These are prime sugaring temps; you want it to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.
With the sap flowing nicely, we started boiling constantly to keep up. We averaged 7 gallons of sap per day from our 20 taps. Mr Chiots collected the sap several times a day. Since we're using mason jars they're not that big and need emptied several times a day. We use them since that's what we have on hand and I'm not a big fan of my food touching any plastic.
After collecting the sap, it's brought inside to warm up a bit. I strain it through a coffee filter into a big stock pot on the stove, this strains out any wood chips, sticks and any other dirt. We warm the sap in this stock pot and when it’s boiling we transfer it to big kettle that’s boiling outside (or another kettle on the stove). We do this to keep the big pot at a rolling boil, if you keep pouring cold sap into the boiling sap it will take longer to reduce into syrup.
After boiling it down and finishing it off, we strain it through a few layers of cheesecloth and we have delicious homemade maple syrup. (read through one of the books listed above for info on finishing syrup, need to be at a certain temp).
Our sugaring season is over for 2010, it was a short one. We ended up with over a gallon of syrup. Sugaring is a fun relaxing hobby. We've really enjoyed the process and will continue doing it for years to come. There's something so satisfying about making your own maple syrup!
You can see the two different colors of syrup we got from our two batches. It’s so delicious, hard to believe we made it at home. One thing is for certain, not a drop of this will go to waste! When you take such a hands on approach to making your own food you really appreciate it because you know the effort that goes into it.
Anyone of you sugaring your maples, birch, or shagbark hickory trees?
for more photos & explanation of our sugaring process check out my posts on my blog:
Tap, Tap, Tap, Maple Sap
Prime Sugaring Weather
Finishing Off our Maple Syrup