Making Maple Syrup

Making maple syrup is an easy, fun, and rewarding activity for the entire family. All you need are a few maple trees, some basic simple equipment, and the willingness to put in a little effort making your syrup. Making the syrup is as simple as collecting maple sap and boiling it into syrup. The process of making  syrup is an age-old tradition of the North American Indians, who used it both as a food and as a medicine. Not much has changed since the American Indian first discovered how to tap maple trees and get its sweet sap.

The process of making syrup is the same today as it was then. You boil the sap to remove the water and get maple syrup. Late winter and early spring is when the maple trees are tapped. The sap is then collected and boiled down to make maple syrup. Making syrup is a slow labor intensive process that requires evaporating about 40 gallons of sap in order to produce 1 gallon of syrup.

The secret to making good maple syrup is heat, lots and lots of heat. The groves of maple trees that cover the Northeastern United States and Canada are referred to as the sugarbush, and the process of making syrup is known as sugaring.  Maple syrup is one of Agriculture’s oldest natural commodities

Equipment
You can make maple syrup with very little equipment, and you may already have many of these items. Most of the equipment can be purchased at your local store, and the items that are unique to making maple syrup such as spiles, (spouts) hydrometers, and finishing filters can be found at maple syrup equipment suppliers, or even online.

1. A drill (portable) with a 7/16 inch drill bit.
2. Spiles (spouts). One for each hole.
3. One container per tap hole to catch the sap. You can use any wooden, metal, or plastic bucket. Containers can be made from plastic milk jugs as well. Cut a hole large enough so that it can be slipped over the spile at the top of one side of the jug.
4. Large plastic or metal trash can to store the collected sap in.
5. A large deep wash tub or metal pan that will hold at least five gallons of sap to be used as an evaporator pan for boiling the sap.
6. An outdoor fire pit made of brick or cinder block that your boiling pan will fit on. A wood stove set up out of doors is also suitable. Do not boil maple sap in your kitchen.
7. Dry, fast-burning wood is needed to provide the heat necessary for boiling.
8. A candy thermometer for testing to see when the syrup is done.
9. Felt, flannel, or wool filter to filter the maple syrup while hot. Filters and special straining containers can be purchased from maple syrup equipment suppliers. A double layer of flannel can be used.
10. Clean glass jars that can be sealed tight to store the finished maple syrup. Canning jars are ideal.
11. Hydrometer (optional) which will tell you when the syrup is done. Maple syrup should weigh at least 11 pounds per gallon.

Making Maple Syrup
1. Not all maple trees are good for making  syrup. Your trees need to be hard maple to be a good sugar maple tree. Do not use soft maple trees. A tree needs to be at least 10″ in diameter measuring 4 1/2 feet above the ground. For trees between 10″ and 20″ you should only put 1 tap per tree. Trees between 20″ and 30″ can sustain 2 taps, and trees over 30″ can support 3 taps per tree. Trees with large crowns (a lot of branches) usually are the best producers.
2. The hole should be drilled at a convenient height and needs to be 7/16″ in diameter and 3″ deep. Look for unblemished bark and do not drill holes closer that 2 feet under or over old holes.
3. The spile (spout) should be driven in tight enough so it cannot be pulled out by hand, but be careful not hard enough to split the tree.
4. Hang your bucket or container on the hook of the spout if it is a purchased one: or, if you have made your own, fashion a length of wire to serve as a hanger. Be sure to cover the bucket to keep out rain, snow and foreign material.
5. Hook your bucket on the spile. If the spile does not have a hook on it you can use a piece of wire to secure the bucket to the spile. Cover the bucket to keep out foreign materials. It is a general rule-of-thumb that each tap will yield 10 gallons of sap throughout an approximate six week season, producing 1 quart of maple syrup.
6. As the sap fills your buckets it should be collected and placed in your collection container until you have enough to start boiling. Fill your boiling pan about 2/3 full to prevent boiling over, and start your fire. Rubbing vegetable oil on the top rim of the boiling pan can help prevent boiling over. Keep adding more sap to the boiling pan as the water boils out, and never let the level of sap in the boiling pan drop below 2 inches, or it may burn down. It takes a lot of boiling time to make maple syrup, so keep your fire going, and never leave it unattended.
7. Clean your collection buckets after each use, because left over sap will sour if left in the buckets. Boil the collected sap as soon as possible, but if you need to store some it must me stored as cold as possible.
8. Your candy thermometer will tell you when your maple syrup is finished. It becomes maple syrup when its temperature reaches 7 degrees F. above the temperature of boiling water, which will give you about a 67 to 69 percent sugar content.. Water boils at different temperatures according to your elevation, so you need to determine what temperature water will boil at your elevation. Hydrometers are another way of testing your maple syrup. Maple syrup with the proper 67% sugar content will weigh 11 pounds per gallon. Crystals may form on the bottom of your container if your syrup weighs more than 11 !/4 pounds per gallon.
9. Now its time to pour the hot syrup through a filter before you pack it in containers. You can use a felt, flannel, or wool filter, or purchase a special strainer at your equipment supplier. Another method is to pour the syrup in another container and let it cool for 12 hours. Sediment will settle to the bottom and you can carefully pour the clear syrup off the top. You will need to reheat this syrup to at least 180 degrees F. before packing it in individual containers.
10. Maple syrup needs to be packed hot (180 degrees F.). Sterilize all jars, cans or jugs before pouring the hot syrup into them. Fill to the top allowing very little air in, and lay on their sides to attain a better seal.
11.Store your maple syrup in a cool place or put it in your freezer. It should be stored in the refrigerator once opened.
12.Clean your equipment with hot water and a mild chlorine solution. Do not use soap or detergents as they can leave a residue that can contaminate the flavor of your next batch of syrup.

Ken Asselin is webmaster for the Selections Guide series of Information and Shopping websites. You can visit his Michigan Maple Syrup Site at: www.michiganmaplesyrup.net

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