TO MAKE YOUR OWN MAPLE SYRUP
I was a little girl, I have always had a kind of pioneer
spirit in me and when I would drive to work in the middle
of February, I would see many maple trees tapped for
sap. This went on for about three years until I stopped
and talked to the gentleman who was making the maple
syrup. I learned how to do this from him. His first
name is Jim. So Jim, I dedicate this to you.
I am going to get you started making your own maple
syrup. There is just no comparison between the clear,
lovely, golden syrup that you can make yourself and
the dark brown syrup most people buy at the store. The
first things you need are some maple trees, yours or
those you can "borrow" from your neighbors.
If you "borrow trees" from your neighbors,
it is customary to give 1/2 of the syrup you get from
their trees back to them. There are some things you
have to order from a catalog, that's why I'm writing
this article now.
go out to your tree(s) and measure from the ground up
4 feet. Then measure your tree around (diameter). If
it measures 31 inches or more you can use that tree
to tap for maple sap. Then for each additional 12 inches,
you can use an additional tap. Usually 4 taps are enough
for the tree itself. It you have a really old tree,
you can put in an extra tap, but no more than 5.
have 2 sugar maples and 2 silver maples. The first year
we made syrup, we got close to 2 gallons of syrup. My
trees are very old, which means that they have large
diameters. Because they are so large, I am able to use
12 taps on my 4 trees and I cook the syrup in my own
first time I actually cooked the sap down, I was on
vacation at my girlfriends farm in Ohio. She has
a maple tree that must be 200 years old. We tapped the
tree and collected the sap and started cooking it down.
I think we had 10 or 15 gallons of sap. Since I didn't
know how long it took and we had been cooking it all
day and the pan was still half full, we went to bed
and left it cooking. I woke up and went down to check
the progress and it still wasn't done. So I went back
to bed and when I woke up again, black smoke was rolling
through the house. I had burned the first batch of sap.
I also killed my girlfriends largest stockpot.
She was not pleased, to say the least. I was pretty
disappointed too. If, for some reason, this happens
to you, get a wire brush that fits on a drill. That
will remove the burned residue of the syrup. It's true
that you learn from your mistakes; I have never done
next thing to know is you have to have freezing weather.
The sap starts to flow up the tree when the temperatures
are in the 30º - 40º F during the day and
10º - 20º F at night. It doesn't have to be
exact. This is what I look for when deciding when to
tap my trees. I start to monitor the temperatures towards
the end of January and usually tap my trees in February.
I live in Chicago, Illinois in the Midwestern part of
the United States.
is important to have a special thermometer that costs
approximately $45 and the jars and caps to seal the
syrup in and the taps for the trees. The first year
I did this, I used plastic gallon milk jugs to catch
the sap. The next year I ordered plastic tubing to use
with the taps, so it was easier. You also need a 5 gallon
bucket to collect the sap with and a large volume pan
to cook down the sap with and a pan like a 9 x 13 or
larger cake pan to do the final cooking.
kind of maple tree can be used. My husband is thinking
about tapping our red maple this year.
forgot to mention about sap/syrup ratio: with a sugar
maple tree, the ratio is 32 gallons to 1 which means
you need 32 gallons of sap to cook 1 gallon of syrup.
If you use other maple trees, the ratio gets higher,
more sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
you cook it down and have strained it through many layers
of cheesecloth, you don't have anything else to do.
Bottle it and you will be surprised at the lovely amber
color. The maple syrup industry usually saves it for
their own private use.
is a link to order the catalog to get supplies: email@example.com
save money, do not order the beginning maple syrup package.
It costs about $150 and you can probably get away with
$60 - $70, depending on how many taps you put in your
Primer in Six Easy Lessons
everything you need to know about maple sugaring . .
. tongue in cheek, of course. What follows is long but
worth the time. We found this in the Vermonter, April
3, 1977 by Chris Braithwaite. It's quoted exactly as
originally published. Enjoy!
We found the following notes scribbled on the backs
of old pin-up calendars, newspapers and lunch bags
in a sugar house in the remote hills of West Glover.
The author identifies himself only as the Sugar House
Troll. Save for some reorganization and corrections
of a few lamentable errors of spelling, grammar and
fact, we pass on his notes intact.
I: Where It Comes From
from down country knows just how it's done. You poke
a hole in a likely looking tree, and catch the maple
syrup as it runs out.
fact, maple syrup is made from sap, and sap is so close
to water that a thirsty man would never notice the difference.
This sap yields so little syrup so grudgingly that the
sugar maker is never quite sure that his gathering crew
didn't take a shortcut and dip the last tubful out of
the brook. If he's a modern sugarmaker with no gathering
crew to holler at, he suspects that a chipmunk chewed
through his pipeline and dropped the end in the brook.
does very little good to yell at chipmunks, and even
less to yell at gathering crews.
II: How to Get It
trees take exception to having holes punched in them,
and get even by teasing sugarmakers almost to death.
If it's too cold, sap won't run. If it's too warm, it
won't run. Come perfect, clear spring weather with freezing
nights and thawing days, it'll run like Roger Bannister
for a few days, and then stop. A storm might make it
run again, but a rain storm will probably be too warm.
A snow storm might make the sap run, but you never know.
This is because the trees will drop down gobs of the
white stuff and knock the tops off your buckets. They'll
fill up with melted snow which yields just as much syrup
as brook water. It doesn't do any good to yell at maple
of your modern sugarmakers have been so frustrated by
this experience that they have put the whole bush on
pipeline and hooked up a pump to suck the sap out of
the trees. That probably doesn't work either, but may
be a good way to use up surplus electricity.
III: How to Make It
gone about nuts waiting for the trees to give up a little
sap, and having worked his help and his equipment almost
to death lugging it to the sugar house, the sugarmaker
now proceeds to get rid of it. This is accomplished
by building a big fire under it and turning it into
steam. Along with wood ashes and empty beer cans (see
Lesson Six: How to Get Rich), steam is the major by-product
of the maple industry.
a scientific fact that the steam from all the millions
of gallons of sap boiled off in Vermont each spring
rises to the heavens and hangs around till June, when
it rains down on the sugarmaker's hay fields. This is
another one of the wonderful cycles of nature.
sugarmaker watches and waits and measures and dips and
cusses and waits some more until the big moment when
he opens the tap on his sugar pan and a pitiful little
trickle of maple syrup drizzles out. For every 32 gallons
of water he sends up in steam, he gets about a gallon
of maple syrup. This is ridiculous.
IV: How to Keep Warm
well-equipped sugarmaker will have somebody on hand
to keep. Firing a sugar rig is a fine example of the
way people tend to lose track of why they're doing a
job and get obsessed with the task at hand. The gathering
crew, for example, gets obsessed with keeping the buckets
empty, and hates the trees for filling them up again.
The sugarmaker wants to convert all that sap to steam,
and hates the crew for bringing in more.
the fireperson's job is to get rid of that huge pile
of wood he spent the winter collecting. And a sugar
arch is a wonderful device to get rid of wood. He stokes
it and pokes it and stuffs it full of the driest bits
of split hardwood and dead cedar and valuable antique
barn boards he can lay his hands on, and takes great
pride in the hole he leaves in the pile.
the Fireperson says this is a wonderful release for
anyone who has spent the winder trying to stretch a
February woodpile through April.
the modern sugarmaker who heats his home and boils his
sap with oil, the satisfaction much lie in knowing he'll
be keeping a lot of Arabs pretty busy.
V: How to Get Around
common forms of transportation in the maple sugar bush
are horse, tractor, foot, snowshoe and helicopter. None
are satisfactory. The difficulty here is snow, which
varies in depth from one inch above the top of the highest
pair of boots present, to the approximate height of
Wilt (the Stilt) Chamberlain's belly button. This year
a neighbor helped us string pipeline on skis. It was
an interesting performance. He got around fine. But
with a ski on each foot and a pole in each hand he couldn't
carry anything that wouldn't fit in his pocket, or get
closer than three feet to any tree (except once, when
he used one to stop himself. He is trying to figure
out a better way to stop himself.) If he got off his
skis to do something, he was too short to climb back
suggested that his combination of high mobility and
utter uselessness made him an ideal candidate for supervisor.
Every sugar bush needs a supervisor, and he did fine
until the Troll accidentally backed the tractor over
his ski tips.
VI: How to Get Rich
sugaring is highly profitable, provided that you own
the sugar bush in the first place, your grandfather
bought the equipment in 1926, and you don't figure your
time is worth anything. If you figure the cost of buying
the bush, equipping it, and paying the help and yourself
a living wage, sugaring would make a tax shelter that
could keep a Rockefeller dry.
there are some profitable opportunities in sugaring.
It should be possible to obtain free help by convincing
the neighbors that sugaring is an indispensable part
of the Rural Experience, and a whole lot of fun. Make
it clear that in turn for the experience, the help should
provide some refreshment. Any beverage will do except
milk, coffee, hard liquor, orange juice, tea, soft drinks,
apple cider or water.
the wood pile is gone, the buds are out and the sugar
house is full of empties, haul the syrup home and sell
it. That will cover expenses. Then collect all the empty
refreshment cans, rent a truck, and head for the redemption
is your profit.
Braithwaite, Vermonter, Sunday, April 3,
thought I would include this because it's funny and
tells of some of the problems that are associated with
running a large sugar farm.
American Indians taught the pilgrims how to make maple
syrup when they came from England. In those days,
a hatchet was used to tap the trees. However it tended
to have a negative effect on the trees, usually dying
after a few years of this kind of treatment. But if
you can imagine the huge, virgin forests of back then,
they had lots of trees to use if a few died off. The
Indians had few spices, little salt and no natural
sweeteners, so they used the maple syrup to flavor
everything from meats to beverages. (The honey bees
arrived with the pilgrims.)
native Americans cooked down their sap to hard crystallized
cakes, and they were cherished. The settlers traded
for the cakes of maple sugar and were soon making
it themselves. The tapping methods have changed little
since they used hollowed out twigs to direct the sap
actually tap the trees, today we use drills and a special
bit. A 7/16 drill bit is used to tap the trees. This
gives the appropiate size hole for the taps to fit in.
Take special care to hold the drill steady while drilling
the hole, so the sap doesn't leak around the tap. If
for some reason you get a leak, simply wet some toilet
paper and push it in where it seems to be leaking. You
may need to repeat this if it starts to leak again.
you actually drill the hole, drill up at a slight angle
so the sap will roll down the hole into the spout and
into you container. It should be approx. 2" long.
We put a piece of tape on the drill bit to let us know
when we get to the proper depth. Before drilling, you
want to look closely at the tree to find the right place
to put your tap. Stand under a large limb and look up.
Look at the bark and watch how it runs up the tree.
you want to find a place that has bark running all the
way up to the limb with no imperfections in the bark
until it reaches the limb. Put a tap there.
the "sugarin" is done, the tree will heal
itself. you will know when the sap run is over, because
the sap will turn cloudy and sometimes have a yellow
color to it. Throw this away, it will make bitter syrup.
is a list of things you need to order:
spout brush - quantity 1
- as many as you need
driver - quantity 1
"Backyard Sugarin" - quantity 1
"Sugarhouse Treats" - quantity 1
adjustable scale - quantity 1
holder bracket - quantity 1
and caps of your choosing
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