After some strange, strange winter weather, temperatures have begun to moderate a bit here in the heartland and it appears maple syrup season has arrived! I’m so excited, y’all! It’s been a few years since we put much time and effort into syrup, so that just makes the prospect of fresh, warm maple syrup even more enthralling! Though I try to avoid the sweet stuff, homemade maple syrup tastes amazing, especially on a stack of Scottish oatcakes, swirled into some cocoa or drizzled on a sweet tater. Beyond tasting amazing, it’s a simple way of producing your own, all-natural sweetener with little to no investment and no specialized knowledge required! If you can drill a hole and boil water, you can make your own maple syrup!
Now in late fall, I gave you a complete tutorial on making maple syrup, so consider this post a gentle reminder to watch your weather. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, it’s about that time! Remember you’re watching for stretches of weather with daytime temperatures above 32 degrees and nighttime temperatures that drop into the 20s. Sunny days are an absolute plus, but the sap will flow even if it’s overcast or rainy.
For best results, you should tap your trees on the south/southeast face to take advantage of the sunshine. The quicker the trunk warms, the quicker the sap will run. At least that’s what I’ve been told by those who claim to know! Drill the hole at a slight incline, tap the spile into place and then hang your bucket or attach your dropline. If you have gnarly, multi-trunked monsters like this old maple, you can tap each trunk (with a minimum 12 inch diameter) at least once. If it’s a real giant, you can place a spile at 1 ft. intervals around the tree.
The amount of sap collected each day will vary according to the temperatures and the amount of sunlight, but on a very good day, you can collect a couple gallons of sap per spile. Remember it takes 40-50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of finished syrup, so don’t get impatient. Let the sap flow. As sap is a natural product, it can and will spoil, so keep your collected sap in a cold, dark place or if the weather cooperates, a snow bank is ideal. (If you’re wondering, spoiled sap turns cloudy and sometimes has an off smell or slimy appearance.)
Once you’ve collected a goodly amount of sap, you begin the cooking down process. You HAVE to do this step outdoors because of the amount of moisture you have to evaporate; it WILL steam the wallpaper or border right off your walls! A crockpot in a garage or a propane turkey fryer are both good options, though you have to keep a close eye on the sap as it burns easily. This year, we’re trying something a little different with a homemade-ugly evaporator made out of an old fuel oil tank. Shallow, stainless steel chaffing pans will sit across a ledge on the top of the tank and in theory, we should have a functional evaporator. Many thanks to my darling husband and his wicked awesome welding skills.
I’ll have more pictures for you later this week as we begin the boiling down process. There are a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way that prospective maple sugarers may find helpful! Till then, my sweet, sweet friends!