It’s borderline spring around here, which means....Maple Syrup Season! As winter begins to slowly wind down, the trees slowly begin to wake up, but pushing massive amounts of sap through their "veins." This is the product that we turn into Maple Syrup!
This is the second year that I have tapped our Sugar maples on our property and it’s been such a fun learning experience! Here, let me walk you through our little setup.
We tap three trees on our property. First, we drill a small hole on the south side of the tree. We have plastic taps that we gently tap into that hole. From the tap, we connect a plastic line that runs down to a five gallon, food safe bucket. This is a pretty common setup for hobbyist maple syrupers (is that even a word??) like us. Bigger operations that tap hundreds of trees have a similar tap, but then run plastic lines to mainlines that run through their woods. There is no way they could collect sap from hundreds of buckets every day! Additionally, this lets them add some vacuum pressure to the lines and gets better sap flow from the trees.
Every day, I collect the sap collected in the buckets from these trees and bring it back to the house. It’s anywhere from .5 gallons to 3 gallons. This is very dependent on the weather. Prime sap flow is when the temps are below freezing at night, but in the low 40’s during the day. I collect this sap in the fridge so I don’t have to boil it every day. Once I’ve collected about 5 gallons, or after 3 or so days of collecting, it’s time to boil!
Last year, I boiled everything inside on the stove top. It worked, but let me tell you, it produces so much steam! I’ve heard tales of people boiling inside and then getting mold issues in their house. To combat that, I set up fans and dehumidifiers. It worked, but it was loud! This year, we added to our sugaring operation by purchasing a propane fryer. The wide, shallow basket is perfect for boiling the sap. I fire it up outside and let the majority of the water boil off outside before I bring it inside to finish the last little bit on the stove where I have better control.
So how do you get from sap to syrup? The sap to syrup ratio is 40:1. So 40 gallons of sap, equals 1 gallon of syrup. Last weekend I boiled down 5 gallons of sap, which equals 1 pint of syrup. You may be thinking, you are crazy for doing this! You could buy it for cheaper! And you are probably right. But there is something really satisfying about knowing you created this from raw products on your own farm! Anyway, enough justifying myself, back to the boil. What happens when you boil the sap is that you are evaporating off water. That means, the less and less water that is part of the sap/syrup quantity, the more condensed your sugars are, and the sweeter it gets. Eventually, you get to the point where the sap temperature is now reaching above the boiling point of water. Once we get 7 degrees above boiling, we have syrup!
As for the quality? I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say it is the absolute best I have ever had. It’s maple perfection! I think waffles are in order sometime this week, so we can enjoy some of the fruits of our labor!
As I wrap this post up, I was thinking about our motivation for doing what we do. Our Kentucky farm raised beef and lamb, growing a garden, canning produce all summer, freezing corn and squash, baking bread and making maple syrup. It probably is true that we could buy a lot of these items for cheaper than what we raise them for, particularly if you include all the time invested. But I don’t think it’s purely a financial decision. I think its about the satisfaction of working hard and growing and making your own. I think it’s the quality assurance you have, because you raised it and made it yourself. And I think its about good food. You can’t beat the taste of fresh produce from a garden, homemade bread out of the oven, a good steak from your own pasture raised, grain finished beef, or maple from your own trees. But maybe this is a whole other blog post for another time.
Happy dreaming of spring.