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Making Maple Syrup

pancakes

Maple syrup-covered hotcakes on a cold winter morning are hard to beat. If you use your own maple syrup, your hotcakes will taste even better, and you’ll save money on your groceries. Maple syrup isn’t something you actually make; you harvest it from maple trees. Once harvested, you process it to remove impurities and water. The process isn’t hard to do. If you have a maple tree, you can start tapping your own maple syrup as soon as next spring.  Look around your back your yard and acreage to see if you have maple trees suitable for tapping. You may have an abundance of maple syrup just waiting to be extracted.

Choosing the Tree to Tap

If you have maple trees in your yard, you can probably tap them for syrup. You should check the tree trunk’s diameter and look for any signs of disease, insects, pollution, or wounds to the tree. Trees with a diameter that is larger than eleven inches and that are healthy can be successfully tapped. If the tree has any stressors, such as insects, disease, or anything that can affect its health, don’t place more than one or two taps on the tree.

When choosing maple trees to tap for syrup, the best trees are those with large, downward-extending crowns. The sugar maple is the best maple for tapping. It has the highest sugar content. The red maple, silver maple, and Manitoba maple all make good syrup as well; however, they are lower in sugar content and thus require more sap from the tree to make syrup. Ornamental maples are not used for syrup tapping as the sap is milky and not sweet.

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Finally, you need to know how many taps you can put in a tree. The number of taps is based on the size of the tree. You should follow these guidelines that have been set by arborists and syrup producers who understand trees and how to tap them without causing damage to the trees. Measure the diameter of the trunk at four and a half feet above the ground. Use this measurement and these guidelines for determining how many taps you can use:

  • 11 inches to 17 inches in diameter: 1 tap
  • 18 inches to  24 inches: 2 taps
  • 25 inches and larger: 3 taps

Once you know how many taps your tree can take, you are ready to get started making the best maple syrup you’ve ever had and knowing you are giving your family products that have no commercial additives.

Tapping Trees

You can’t tap a tree successfully until the right time. You should start watching the weather in February. Sap flows freely when the temperature outside is between 40°F and 50°F during the daytime and is still as cool as 20°F at night. This temperature fluctuation is what causes the sap to rise in the tree. This time period could be anytime between February and April.

Keep in mind that a healthy maple tree can make as much as gallons of sap, which converts to approximately one quart of syrup. It can take up to fourteen days for a maple tree to produce its full amount of sap to be used for syrup. You will know when the tree has stopped making sweet sap by the color and the buds on the tree. The twigs will start to open, and the sap will become cloudy when the sugar content is low.

You don’t have to worry that tapping the tree will hurt it or that you can’t tap a tree more than once. The tree will heal itself and does not need to have anything put over the tap hole. Nature will form a scar over the tap hole.

Making Syrup

After you have found the trees you are going to tap, you are ready to get started. You need a spout or spile to put in the tree hole. This gives the sap somewhere to flow out and into your collection bucket. You can easily make a spigot with a hollow, wooden peg or rounded piece of metal.  This is placed in a hole that you make in the tree. You can tap the tree with a hammer and large nail or spike. After you have a tap hole, put the spout inside and hang a bucket or container on the tree to catch the sap. You should also put a cover or some type of protection over the bucket to keep bugs and debris out of the bucket.

After collecting the maple sap, you have to process it down to the syrup. Boiling the sap removes the water from it and leaves behind the sweet, sticky goodness you pour on your pancakes. As you boil the sap, you will notice the bubbles start to get smaller. This means the sugar content in the pot of sap is increasing.

You can boil the sap inside on your conventional stove or boil it outside over a fire or pit. The only thing required is enough heat to bring the sap to a rolling boil and to keep it boiling. You don’t want the sap to burn, so you have to stir it and keep an eye on it until it is reduced to syrup. If you overcook it, the syrup will become too hard and ruin.

Continue to boil until the syrup slides off the spoon in one single layer. This means it is ready to remove from heat and get ready for the bottles. Before you bottle your syrup, you need to filter it to remove the sediment from the bottom of the pan. You can use plain coffee filters to accomplish this.

Ladle the syrup into hot jars and allow them to seal. You can now store your maple syrup until you are ready to use it on your pancakes. Your friends and family will love your thoughtful, tasty, fresh gift, and you’ll feel good knowing you saved money on your groceries. You have now added one more thing to your list of items you can do without the help of commercial producers.

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