We've learned to make maple syrup!
A supply kit gifted to us by a friend (Thanks, Ellie!) encouraged us to get started. I'm not talking about farm-level production here, but a cute three-bucket process from which we've discovered a ton.
I thought I'd pass on the process for anyone who might be interested in giving it a try, which I highly recommend if you live in an area where you can attempt it.
Here's a quick overview:
1. Gather or buy supplies.
The supplies we're using came from TapMyTrees.com - a small online store started by a family who wanted to teach their children about syruping. Their site includes an overview of the process as well as starter kits you can purchase. (I'm not affiliated with them at all, I just think what they're offering is cool!)
Alternatively you can purchase their guide Maple Sugaring at Home from Amazon - this short book has been so helpful.
2. Tap your trees, then gather the sap once a day.
The sap starts to rise when daytime temperatures are above freezing, but nighttime temperatures stay below freezing.
Once you've tapped your maple trees, you'll want to collect your sap once a day. (Unless the temperature is really cold that day--don't bother!)
3. Filter the sap and store in the fridge.
Quicklu filter your sap once before storing in the fridge--through a piece of cheesecloth. This will weed out large debris like bugs, bark, and so on.
Once that's done you can pour the filtered sap, using a funnel if you have one, into washed out milk jugs or other containers and store it in the fridge. (It will keep up to seven days there.)
4. When the fridge gets too full, it's time to boil!
We've been boiling our sap about once or twice a week--depending on how much we've collected. (Remember I'm talking small scale production here.) And we've been able to boil indoors--no huge evaporators required! This makes the process so much less intimidating for your average, non-farming family.
You can make your syrup inside, but only if you have a small quantity of sap (less than 8 or so gallons) and plenty of ventilation. (We have three windows and a door we can open in our kitchen and it works fine.) Boiling this amount of sap has taken us between 10 and 13 hours most days. I usually start it in the morning and keep it going all day until evening when the magic happens.
Fill two large pots on your stove with sap up to 3/4 full. As the sap starts to boil, it will evaporate and you can add more to the same pots. Skim off any foam that rises to the top with a spoon as you go along.
5. How to know when the sap turns to syrup.
Sap starts off clear like water. As it boils it will slowly take on a light golden color, which gets darker as time goes on and as it approaches syrup. You can tell when it's reached syrup easily if you have a candy thermometer, but we've done it without one.
The first time we tried I boiled too long and ended up with maple sugar instead. Whoops! (Still tasty, though!) The second time I didn't want that to happen again, and I ended up boiling not long enough, which gave us a bit more of a liquidy syrup (again, still tasty!) The third time we got it just right, hooray!
Remember that there's a 40 to 1 ratio of sap to syrup--most of your sap will evaporate. Eventually you'll pour it into just one of your two pots, then you'll transfer to a smaller pot or pan.
As the sap approaches syrup I've found that it gets very bubbly when stirred - so many tiny bubbles they almost overflow the small pan. That's when I begin to watch very carefully. Every three to five minutes I use a spoon to check the consistency. I put a spoonful in a small bowl and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I check to see if it has a syrup like consistency or if it's too liquidy. I usually have to do this a few times--when my spoon starts to stick to the bowl, that's a sign the magic has happened!
6. Filter one final time.
After your syrup cools a bit, you filter out the sediment one last time so you're left with the pure goodness of clear syrup. We've actually been using an old, sheer kitchen towel as a filter and it's worked perfectly.
My favorite part is pouring the syrup into our jars and then doing a taste test with the kids. We like to sample and compare the various weeks' syrup to see which we like best.
There's so much I've learned in my eight years of motherhood, but I never imagined making maple syrup would be one of the lessons. I love this life of neverending surprises and I love that my kids get to watch Mama discover new things alongside them.
~ Albert Einstein