Thursday, March 1

Turning Maple Tree Sap Into Syrup

Making Maple Syrup
I have read that many people and cultures believe that drinking maple sap is a way to energize the body after a long winter. I decided to have a little glass to start the morning off. 

Maple sap is regarded as a medicine, a Spring tonic, by most American Indian nations where maple sap is gathered.  In South Korea, the drinking of sap is linked to a wide range of health benefits.

After collecting enough sap from our maple trees I started early this morning getting everything ready for the boiling process.

How I decided to go about this process:

I have read on almost all websites that the syrup needs to be boiled outdoors. There seems to be numerous reasons why, three of the most important being:

Cooking over an open fire recommended
1. Boiling the sap will produce a ton of steam and humidity which is enough to peel wall paper off the wall!

2. In each little molecule of steam vapor there is an even smaller molecule of sugar attached, so all that steam in the house will make everything sticky.

3. Cooking the sap over an open fire or campfire imparts some of the smoky flavor into the syrup, which, from what everyone is saying is great!

I have a dilemma. I have baby chicks to keep an eye on, 2 dachshunds that can not stand being cold and would not want to sit for hours with me next to the campfire when it is only 45 degrees or so outside. And I don’t think I have the patience to sit for hours and hours next to the campfire to watch sap boil.

I decided to improvise.
One of friends, Tom “Thunder” Thornton taught our family a phrase he used while an Army Ranger:

The Five Pees’:  Prior Planning Prevents Pisspoor Performance

So, keeping the 5 P’s in mind, and thinking through the whole process needed and lots of planning I came up with this.
The first step was to get everything together before the boiling was to begin.

I set up our Camp Chef grill on the back Porch. This is a camping grill / griddle and runs on a propane tank. We purchased the Camp Chef grill to use when our son Daniel was in Boy Scouts. This will work great to do the majority of sap boiling. Setting it on the open back porch will be safer and not allow the sugar laden steam in the house, but I will be only steps from the kitchen. 

I washed two large pots and set them on the grill. These are the pots I use when making home canning soup, so they are as large as or larger than canning pots.
I do not have a very large shallow pan to boil the sap so I improvised.
Another saying Tom taught us:
Improvise, Overcome and Adapt.

The larger the area boiling, the more steam that will rise (water evaporation) and the quicker the process will be.

I strained all the sap with cheese cloth, and then continued to strain with a small tea strainer while the sap was cooking.

I carried our Weber smoker grill to the back porch, and then collected small twigs and sticks to start an actual wood fire. If smoke is one of the best ingredients for maple syrup making I will make a wood coal base in the Weber grill. I will then pour the nearly finished boiling sap into a pot that will fit inside the Weber grill with the lid on. Slow cooking for a half hour to an hour should put a nice smoky flavor into the syrup.

Now that I had everything in place, I started boiling the sap.

My outdoor work station
I started with about 2 gallons in each pot and I kept the sap at a low boil all day. As the sap cooked down I added another gallon or so. Just so you know what you are in for should you decide to try sugaring at home, this was an all day process. I was able to get work done in the house, but only short bursts. I had to keep a constant eye on the sap boiling making sure it was not too hot, but hot enough to boil and that it did not cook completely down and burn.

One of the most amazing things about the sap boiling is this: It had a delicious slightly sweet, slightly woodsy smell and sometimes it smelled like a wonderful stew cooking.

Oops, break here, all those delicious odors made my stomach growl so bad I had to go inside and make a sandwich! Chicken with aged cheese and spicy mustard and a glass of raspberry iced tea.

I’m back.
This I also noticed about the sap: When a batch cooked down and right before I added more sap, the aroma coming from the pot was more like taffy candy cooking! Yum!
After using around 10 gallons of sap (it took all day) I decided to let this batch finish boiling down on the grill. According to all websites on the subject, about 10 gallons of sap is needed to make a quart of syrup.

While the last of the sap was slowly boiling I start a wood fire with sticks and twigs in the Weber grill. I then added a few small pieces of wood and allowed it all to burn down until I had a nice bed of hot coals.
Oh No, another food attack. It is nearly impossible for me to be around a campfire without an over whelming desire to roast something! This time a nitrate free hotdog hit the spot and stopped the loud (nearly a roar) tummy growling. 

I placed the grill rack back on the grill to support the sap pot, and then (very carefully, this stuff is HOT) moved the sap pot to the grill and covered with the grill lid.

I kept a close eye on the sap, removing the grill lid and stirring the sap every few minutes to make sure it was slowly boiling and not burning.

I left the pot on the grill, which was smoking as I had hoped, for about an hour.
Now to move the sap into the kitchen to finish it into syrup!
The sap from the maple trees comes out clear and looks like and has the consistency of water. As the sap cooks down it turns slightly yellow.

Once on the stove top I started the sap to boil again. This is the hardest part of the process. Not enough heat and the sap will not turn syrupy. Too much heat and the sap will burn or crystallized.

As I boiled the sap I kept adjusting the heat. Finally the sap began a very bubbly boil and began to rise up in the pot. At this point the sap is a golden yellow and begins to turn a beautiful amber color. I kept the heat just high enough to keep the sap from boiling over. At this point I can not tell you how long I cooked, nor what the sap temperature was. I read and re-read all the articles I had printed off the internet, but the closest anyone could say about this step is that the sap needed to boil at a certain temperature over the temp of boiling water. Yikes!

I decided to think of the sap like making candy, and getting the candy to a sort of "soft ball" stage.  I stirred the sap constantly and kept testing to see if it was turning into a thicker consistency. It was! The whole house smelled of smoky maple syrup.  All that was missing was pancakes and bacon!

With a spoon, I tested the syrup's flavor.  I poured a small amount onto a small piece of bread to taste it:  It has a light smoky maple flavor. Perfect!

Again I followed the information found on the internet and poured the very hot syrup into 2 clean hot pint canning jars, wiped the rims, and screwed on the caps and bands. (2 pints equal 1 quart)
Once the lids were on the jars, I turned the jars upside down to seal and cool.

I will collect enough sap in the next couple of days to make another batch of syrup, maybe 10 to 12 gallons of sap, then I will remove all the spiles, thank my wonderful trees for all their hard work, and begin looking up recipes which use fresh maple syrup!

Hello Saturday morning pancakes and waffles!!


Other Posts

Maple Syrup Making

Tapping Maple trees

Malabar Farm Sugaring Festival

Homemade Waffle Recipe

When the wind's in the West,
the sap runs best.
When the wind's in the North,
the sap runs forth.
When the wind's in the South,
the sap runs drouth.
When the wind's in the East,
the sap runs least.
-Old New England Farm Song


Anonymous said...

Such a fine article!
So much work, time & effort it takes to make the syrup.
I remember my dad telling about his dad & him taking horses out to gather the sap and the big pots and all the firewood they this brought it a little closer to home for me.
Donna aka DonaSite of Flickr

Elizabeth said...

Thanks Donna.
It seems to me that there is a sweet (smile) love affair for many who make maple sugar, not just with the trees, but with the whole process itself. This experience sure brought me closer to my maple trees, that I know. They are a wonderful beautiful tree.


Anonymous said...

I went school in your home town of Grove City, Ohio, but my family farmed in Madison County. My Great-Uncle's farm on Deer Creek in Madison County, Ohio had the remnants of a Sugar Camp, a shack with a large boiling pan under a covered roof. This was a men only project, and required two or three weeks of staying at the sugar camp to collect and simmer down the sap into syrup.
I believe that the main atttraction in making Maple Syrup in the old days was to give the men a way to get out of the house and away from their wives at the end of long winter. They got stay up late, smoke cigars, play card tell jokes, and drink whiskey.
I think that was the main attraction of sugaring.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

What a wonderful story! And yes, tapping the trees and boiling down the syrup is that must sweeter (smile) because it gives me something to do during the long cold months while waiting for Spring. I would have loved to see your great uncle's sugar camp! Thanks so much for adding to this post!

Kevin Graves said...

Hi Elizabeth, Kevin Graves, Kevbeaux from flickr here. I cannot believe I didn't know you had a blog. I made a huge double cup of coffee to read with this morning. I'm afraid I was an Aunt Jemima or a Log Cabin kid. I tasted real Maple Syrup in Massachusetts when I was about 20 and curled my nose up at it. I tried it about five years ago when I and my taste buds had matured, and there is just nothing like it. Nothing. I believe the smoky taste is why. Glad to have found you!

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thanks Kevin! I'm glad you found me too!

Anonymous said...

Fascinating blog! George

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thanks George!

Anonymous said...

I think this post was great!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the marvelous posting! I definitely enjoyed reading it and learning more about making maple syrup. Sid

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Sid: We have fun making the syrup and look forward to it during the long cold winter months.

Anonymous said...

First time I commented in a blog! I really enjoy it. You have an awesome post. Please do more articles like this. I'm gonna come back surely. God bless. Rica

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thanks Rica

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