Maple syrup is a tradition of the Native Americans. It was a survival skill taught to the early settlers, in the process it has become part of our tradition now. Though just as with much of farming we know less about how it is done than we think we do. Even worse, much of what you might find in the grocery store now is only maple flavored sugar syrup. This stuff you find almost but not quite entirely unlike real maple syrup.
My wife’s uncle has been making his own for a number of years now. What started as a simple question, his son had asked what kind of trees they had on their property years ago, has become a hobby he looks forward to every spring. This hobby has the added advantage of keeping old world artisan skills alive and well as he teaches area youths about collecting sap and turning it into syrup.
The question: What kind of trees do you have on the property? This led to them doing a general survey, counting the trees and to gain a rough idea of what was there. What they found was a large amount of sugar maples, the best kind of tree for maple syrup.
Usually maple season is at the start of spring. The cold nights cause the sap to run down to the roots of the trees and the warmer days cause the sap to run up to the branches. After drilling a hole into the trunk the spile is used to fill collecting buckets. The more trees available means more sap to harvest. At this time he is working with roughly 100 taps.
He works with roughly 80 gallons of sap at a time. This sounds like quite a bit, until you realize the trade off is roughly 40 to 1. It takes at least 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. So far this year with how the weather has hovered around freezing, he has been able to do two batches already.
From the collecting buckets he pours the sap into large plastic trash cans. It has been cold enough recently for some of the sap to freeze. Or at least for the water portion of the sap to freeze, sugar doesn’t freeze. This can make some of the work easier as you can pull the ice out instead of having to boil out the water.
The sap is boiled over wood fire to remove most of the water. After it reaches a small enough level he pours it into smaller pots to boil over his kitchen stove. Granted the process takes quite a while (roughly 10 to 13 hours) it doesn’t require full time involvement. As it boils down you can spend your time working on other projects while being mindful of your fire and ensuring that everything is going as it should be.