The maple making season happens when the winter is almost over. The ideal weather conditions are between thawing and freezing. This type of weather enables the sap to flow within the maple trees. The maple makers tap into the trees, they collect the sap, then boil it to get rid of the water. They don’t add anything to make the syrup, it is just boiled to concentrate it to the syrup form.
The sap contains a small amount of sugar, as well as certain enzymes from the tree. The enzymes and other materials from the tree is what gives maple syrup it’s unique flavor.
One or more holes are drilled into the trunk of the tree to collect the sap, these holes are called, tapholes. The holes are usually small, being 5/16″ in diameter, and 2″ deep. Great care is taken so that the tree is not damaged, the tree will still grow after the process is over.
The amount of tapholes that are drilled depend on the size of tree, a bigger tree will require more tapholes than a smaller tree. A plastic or metal spout is inserted into the hole to ensure the sap doesn’t run down the tree. The sap is directed by the spout into a bucket or to plastic tubing. If there is a freeze, water will be drawn into the roots of the tree, a small suction will be evident in the wood of the tree.
As the wood thaws, sap is released from the taphole. The traditional method of sap collecting was to hang a bucket over the metal spout to collect the sap. This method is still used in some places today, the bucket needs to be emptied into some kind of gathering tank.
The more modern collecting is done in the form of plastic tubing. The tubing goes from the spout in the tree to large sap collecting tanks. This tubing can be joined from one tree to another, many lines of tubing can be connected to many trees, with a tank connected to all the trees.
A vacuum pump is attached to the tubing to enable free flow of the sap through the plastic tubing. The sap is taken to a Sugarhouse where it must be boiled as soon as possible. If the sap is left for any period of time it may go bad. The sap is put into an evaporator, very hot fires are used to boil the sap.
Before the syrup can be stored, it has to be checked for density. It is also filtered to remove a harmless substance called, gritty sand. The syrup will then be color tested to determine what label will be put on the syrup. Fancy, Medium Amber, and Dark Amber are some of the choice colors.
– Make Your Own Maple Syrup –
Here is a basic method to make your own maple syrup.
– Equipment –
1. Bitstock and 7/16 drill bit.
2. Spouts (Can be purchased from a maple equipment dealer, or you can make your own.)
3. A bucket, or other clean container to catch the sap. Containers can be wood, plastic, or metal. You can even use a clean milk jug if you want to improvise.
4. Large pails or other clean storage equipment.
5. A deep metal pan, such as a canner, for the evaporator.
6. An outdoor fireplace, with cinder blocks to hold the pot, or an outdoor woodstove.
7. Dry fast burning wood is essential to create the right temperature for boiling the sap.
8. A syrup or candy thermometer to test the temperature of the syrup.
9. Clean glass jars or metal containers should be sealed when it is time to store the syrup.
– Method –
Be sure the trees are sugar maples, also known as hard maple and rock maple. The tree should be 10″ in diameter for one taphole, add another taphole should be added for any trees that are an additional 8″ in diameter. All equipment used should be sterilized first before use.
1. Drill the hole 7/16″ hole 3″ deep, it doesn’t have to be at an angle. It should also be away from any previously drilled sap holes. About 4″ away from other holes is suitable.
2. Push the spout in so that it is secure, make sure you don’t push too hard as you may split the tree bark.
3. Hang the bucket, or container over the spout. Be sure that the container is covered so that nothing gets into the sap as it flows into the bucket or container.
4. Get your fireplace ready in preparation for burning the sap.
5. When enough sap is gathered, start the fire. Transfer the sap to the cooking pan, don’t over fill the pan as the sap will boil over.
6. Keep adding sap as it boils down, try not to have less than one inch of sap in the pan as it will boil down and burn.
7. Try not to keep the sap exposed in hot weather as it will spoil. Boil the sap right away for best results.
8. Test the temperature, maple syrup should be 7 degrees F. above the temperature of boiling water at your elevation. If you want to be more modern, or have larger batches, a syrup hydrometer and testing cup can be purchased to check if the maple syrup is at the correct temperature and finished the boiling process. Syrup should weigh no more than 11 pounds per gallon.
9. Pour the hot syrup through a felt syrup filter or a special strainer as carried by equipment dealers.
10. Pour the hot syrup into the canning jars, make sure these jars and any other equipment used is sterile. Seal them tightly, they should be filled as much as possible to prevent air gaps. A better seal will happen if the jars are left on their sides to cool.
11. Store in a cool place, the syrup should not freeze if stored in the freezer, providing it has been made properly.
It is also a good idea to visit a local maple producing company to give you hints and tips on how to make good maple syrup.