With the bustle of spring comes a flurry of outdoor activity, and when temperatures rise above freezing during the day and dip back below at night, the sap of the maple trees begins to flow. What would be more suitable then, than to warm our bodies in the morning with a steaming stack of pancakes covered in that sweet and beautiful maple syrup?
Of course, making the maple syrup can’t really happen until you’ve gone out and tapped the trees (probably on a somewhat chilly morning), and boil all of that sap down (on what is probably another chilly morning). Today I am excited to share a project with you that I took no part in, because this one was all Scott. To say the least, it has been difficult for him to find time for fun projects, so being able to complete this process from start to finish is a big milestone for us in terms of settling in around here.
We have a few neighbors who make their own syrup, so when the topic came up in passing conversation last winter, it piqued our interest. We realized that we were too late for tapping that year, so Scott started to do the research for getting us going this year. He has some relatives who boil their own syrup and knew we were interested in getting started, so when they decided that they were going to be upgrading their boiling system, they offered us theirs. Scott still had to purchase supplies for tapping, but I believe he spent less than $100 to get what we needed for tapping something like 19 trees.
Initially, he just picked up enough supplies to tap 6 (?) trees, and all he needed was some taps and tubing. We already had a few buckets that could be used for collecting sap. He first tapped a few trees when he took the kids up to his parents for a weekend, about a month ago, and within a week of that, he cooked down about 6 gallons of sap to make 1 pint of syrup (which was nearly used up within one meal of pancakes for 6 people).
So when the weather was forecasting more of the right weather conditions two weeks ago, he and the boys got more supplies (more taps, tubing, and some extra buckets) and went out to tap the trees. I am not exactly sure how long it took, but they spent an afternoon going around the land looking for trees the right size for tapping. We have 3 large maple trees in our yard, one sugar maple and two silver maples, that are the appropriate size for tapping, and then he put taps in some of the box elder trees as well. One of our neighbors told us you can tap box elder (he does himself), and we had read that any tree in the maple family (including box elder and birch) can be tapped for syrup, but that the different trees produce different tasting sap. Supposedly box elder is sweeter than maple, and birch is more plain, along the lines of corn syrup. Anyway, he tapped some of the box elder as well, just to experiment with, though the sap hasn’t been flowing as much through those trees as it has with the maple trees.
Then last weekend he set up the stove for boiling down the sap and started cooking. I have been preoccupied with an indoor project that you’ll hear about in the next week or two, but I did take the time to get out and take some pictures for day two of boiling the sap. And I missed a few during the process for things like straining the sap and transferring containers (from the cook stove to the kitchen stove, and from the kitchen stove into our jars). I don’t have a ton to say about the process, because it is really pretty simple and straight forward…it’s just the cooking that takes the time. I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking 🙂
I didn’t take pictures on day one, so I did my best on day two. He started with something like 35 gallons of sap on the morning of day one and cooked it down to fit in one large pan (I’m not sure how many gallons it was reduced to at that point).
Day one ended with him adding wood to the stove one last time around 7 p.m. He covered the reduced sap and let the rest of the wood burn up.
When we went back out early the next morning around 6 a.m. there were still some embers glowing in the stove, and when he lifted the lid to the stove to check on the sap, it was still steaming.
With the sap cooking again, it was really a matter of waiting until the sap was boiled down enough to fit into one of our pots on the stove. I believe he boiled until it was just under two gallons of sap before transferring to the stove.
It took two good days of cooking to reduce the sap down to syrup. I have to say, Scott did have some help from our older boys throughout this process, especially Peanut during the cooking. And there was a little help from his dad one day and my brother. The neighbor across the road let Scott and the boys check out his setup and some of the steps that he takes during his cooking.
The maple syrup was temporarily put into mason jars until we could get some jars that would work better for pouring, which I picked up during the week from Hobby Lobby. We ended up with 5 qts. and a half pint. This batch was the second that he boiled down. The first batch tasted a bit different from the second…the second tastes a bit fruitier than the first, and for some reason, is a bit thinner. We aren’t sure if that is the result of tapping different varieties of maples, or not cooking it long enough (you are supposed to cook it until it boils at a certain temperature, too long, and it basically becomes candy), but either way, it is still delicious.
Last week, Peanut came up to me and declared that St. Pancake’s Day was just 10 days away, so last night for dinner we had green pancakes served up with some of our own maple syrup 🙂
As I said before, we are gathering more sap now, and we’ll be experimenting with the box elder sap as well. We’ll let you know how that turns out when we finish that. I got a lot of nice pictures that morning, so I’ll leave you all with a few more. Don’t forget to leave your comments and questions below. If you have advice or ideas, we’d like to hear them!