Spring. A time for new beginnings. It seems fitting for our first post on this new adventure to be about the venerable spring activity: Tapping trees for sap and making syrup!! Matt and Christie decided on a whim we should go for it this year. They bought a few spiles and buckets at our local TSC and after a few hammer swings we were collecting! The sap flows on warm days following nights when the temperature drops below freezing. We don’t have sugar maples on our property ... but we do have some hefty 50ish year old Manitoba Maples (also known as Boxelders). There are actually several kinds of trees whose sap can be boiled down to tasty syrup. Sugar maple sap has the highest sugar content so it takes less sap to make each L of syrup. We were expecting a ratio of about 43 gallons sap: 1 gallon syrup.
We collected about 20 gallons of sap into a carboy which we stored in our cold cellar for about a week. Oops. Turns out that sap is like milk – it actually has quite a short shelf life, even when refrigerated. That cloudy liquid got dumped back around the tree, and we began again, this time storing sap in clean buckets buried in snow in the shade, and only for a few days. Matt tended a backyard fire for a full 2 days attempting to boil the sap down. He fashioned a cinderblock oven around the fire ... still no luck – we just couldn’t keep it at a rolling boil.
Then we tried the BBQ. We went through a tank of propane and got little boilage done – our syrup was getting pricey on the fuel side! We were going to give up for this year when we remembered friends with a nifty set-up they use to make tomato sauce each fall. Once we secured the burner and the ‘Nona-pot’ we were in business!! We boiled down 110 L (about 30 gallons) over the course of two long days – boiling down, adding more sap, keep boiling. We think by setting up a bit more out of the wind we could do it faster yet. Once most of the water was boiled off we brought it inside to finish so we could keep an eye. It reached 215°F and we called it done. (Further research indicates we should have let it go until it reached 219°F – we’ll try that next time.)
We bottled 3 L of beautiful homegrown syrup (into dishwasher sterilized mason jars) from about 30 gallons of sap. The syrup has a slightly different flavour than traditional maple syrup, but it is delicious! And the pancakes don’t seem to mind.