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Home » Featured, Headline, The Farm

I’d Tap That: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Your Own Maple Syrup

Submitted by on February 22, 2010 – 1:59 amNo Comment

[flashvideo file=video/Syrup_1.f4v /]

It’s mid-February and the only thing that keeps a Canadian like me from opening a vein this time of year is the thought of thawing snow, plants beginning to grow, song birds returning and budding leaves on the trees. Even before we can start seed in the greenhouse or prepare the soil for Spring planting out at the farm, we can enjoy the first glorious days of relative warmth and participate in a local culinary tradition that predates European settlement of this harsh, cold landscape. All ‘syrup-suckers’, as Stephen Colbert affectionately refers to us Canadians, really should give the process of making Maple syrup a try at least once. When the Enns family offered up for tapping their 25 acres of virgin sugar bush in New Hamburg, Ontario that is exactly what I intended to do for the very first time.

We, of course, will not be tapping anywhere near every tree in their sugar bush. According to Rink Mann, a backyard sugaring enthusiast and writer from New Hampshire, in order to produce the 20 liters (about 5 gallons, for you Americans) of finished syrup that we hoped to, we’ll need the following:

  • 20 taps (1 per liter)
  • 20 corresponding buckets or containers for sap collection (more to be safe)
  • a hand drill or wireless electric drill for boring holes in trees
  • large storage container(s) for holding sap until the weekend boiling session
  • a homemade evaporator
  • about half a cord of fire wood (approximately twice that needed by more efficient professional evaporators)
  • containers for the finished Maple syrup
  • a candy thermometer (recommended)

Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? It really is, in principle. Take a liquid and reduce it down to its thick, sugary essence. First Nation’s people pioneered this process hundreds of years ago by dropping red hot stones into the liquid they extracted from the Maple trees resulting in what they referred to as ‘sweet water’. It really wasn’t until the technology of galvanized steel was introduced to the process, however, that syrup as we know it could realistically be made. In order to produce 1 liter of finished syrup, after all, approximately 40 liters of raw Sugar Maple sap must be boiled down. That’s a lot of red hot rocks and a lot of steam which is why you should never attempt to boil down the sap in your kitchen. Our projected sap collecting goal, therefore, is…let me get my calculator…800 liters (or roughly 200 gallons)! All for the love of pancakes. But for now, let’s concentrate on enjoying the crisp, cool, early-Spring air, a glass of mulled wine, perhaps, and the company of good friends whom you’ve somehow convinced to help haul sap buckets.

The most challenging, but also the most rewarding, aspect of being a dyed-in-the-wool backyard sugarer is engineering an evaporator rig that, not only competes with the professionals in terms of finished product, but also satisfies what can only be described as a hobo aesthetic. It should cost absolutely nothing and resemble in form and moving, as closely as possible, one Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Don’t worry, at this point, about impressing the ladies with your syrup jalopy. It should be functional and, if all goes well, hilarious to look at. Worry about the mechanics of delivering a very hot flame directly and evenly to the bottom of your evaporating pan. The evaporating pan itself should be long, wide and shallow. A larger surface area will make for a significantly faster evaporation time than, for example, a taller cauldron or pot type system. Make sure, however, that the pan is not so shallow that you risk scorching your precious finished syrup to the bottom of the pan. Move the sap in its final stages to a smaller pot with more depth or even to your stove top to finish the boil. Now let’s get back to the finer points of building evaporators.

Next: Building a Maple Sap Evaporator

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