Ain’t Nothin’ Like the Real Thing… How to Maple Syrup!

Making maple syrup is a great way to get exercise and enjoy one of the sweetest jewels Mother Nature has to offer.

Maple syrup has been made for centuries.  The practice is believed to have originated from Native Americans long before settlers arrived in the New World.  As time passed, practices have been refined and today just about anyone can make maple syrup.

We are entering a new season as winter begins to flex its muscles.  It is the seasonal changes that make maple syrup production possible.

A lengthy hard freeze is necessary to initiate the process.  As the frigid temperatures cause the tree to soak up water from the earth, a process called suction.  When the temperatures rise above freezing, pressure is created in the tree, causing sweet sap to flow through the sapwood of maple trees.

We can enjoy the product of this process by tapping into that sapwood.  A good healthy tree produces so much sap it will gladly let you have some.

The process is simple.  We tap into the sapwood, collect sap, boil it down into syrup and enjoy.

First you must identify your trees.  Sugar maple, red maple, black maple and silver maple all produce delicious sap.  If you know your trees, identifying maples should be easy.  If not, it can be somewhat challenging in wintertime.  Maples can be identified by their bark and branches. If you’re new to agroforestry, do some research.  With practice you will be able to spot maples without even thinking about it.

Trees with a diameter over 12 inches can handle one tap.  Trees over 22 inches in diameter can handle two.  Monster maples can easily handle three or four taps.
Once you have found some trees, you will need a drill with a 7/16 bit.  Next, find a convenient height for your tap, normally belly button to chest height will work.  Then drill into the tree at an upward angle of ten degrees.  The depth to drill depends on the size of the tree.  Generally a depth of 2 ½ inches will suffice, but you may not want to drill quite as deep on smaller trees.

You can purchase metal or plastic spiles online.  This is the part that goes into the tree.  You can also use items from the hardware store if you want to take a quicker route.  Again do research and see what works for you.

Once you have spiles, take a hammer and gently knock it into the tree.  Knock the spile in until it has a nice tight fit.  It is important not to pound in the spile in too deep, as this can cause splitting in the tree.

Next attach your collection container.  Certain spiles may come with hooks you can attach metal buckets to.  Metal buckets are most traditional and the most aesthetically pleasing.  You can also attach plastic buckets, or plastic juice or milk containers. Generally your spile and resources available will determine your rig.  As long as the sap flows from the spile into the container, and the setup can handle the weight of a full container you have done your job.

When temperatures crash below 32 degrees then warm to above freezing, sap will flow.  Collect your sap within five days to ensure freshness.  You will likely want to filter the sap as bark, bugs and other particulate matter may wander into it.

From there, boil it down.  This can be done on the stove or with an evaporator.  The sap contains a small amount of sugar naturally.  As water is boiled off, the sugar content of your product will rise higher and higher.  True maple syrup has a sugar content of 66 percent.  This can be tested by a hydrometer or a refractometer.

There are many different philosophies, strategies, techniques and beliefs about making maple syrup.  And practices will inevitable vary from place to place depending on the scale of the operation.

If you’re looking to make syrup to sell or to keep for the seasons to come it is important to have the right equipment and practices.

If you’re looking to tap a few trees around your house, boil it down and have a taste, then you wont need to be as particular.  Sap by itself can be consumed and is super nutritious and high in essential minerals.  If you cook it down even halfway you will have a sweet treat better than any pop you’ve ever tasted.  When the sap gets near syrup consistency, you will know.  Be careful not to let it burn or crystallize. If it is not brought to the proper temperature and sugar content, consume your product within a few days.

Maple syrup is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners in the world.  It contains minerals and electrolytes and is extremely versatile in the kitchen.  Try pan-searing salmon coated in maple syrup or add some to your next batch of pulled pork bbq.  It is great as a sweetener for warm beverages, a topping, and can be used in baked goods as well.

If you are looking to purchase some, make sure it is true maple syrup.  Be cautious of brand name syrups form the big box stores as they rarely contain actual maple syrup.  Flanigan Family Maple is a Wayne County producer and in my opinion makes syrup better than products from Canada, Ohio or Vermont.  You can visit their facebook page for more information.  The Wild Ramp in Huntington also carries local maple syrup.

Making maple syrup is an excellent reason to lace up your boots, bundle up and enjoy the crisp winter weather with a sweet reward.  Happy sugaring!

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Posted on

January 16, 2018