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
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.
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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 kitchen.
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 this again.
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
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
is a link to order the catalog to get supplies: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 trees.
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
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
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
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
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
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 on.
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 center.
is your profit.
Braithwaite, Vermonter, Sunday, April 3, 1977
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 into containers.
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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