Category Archives: Making Maple Syrup

2017 Maple Syrup Season Is Over

The following picture was sent to me as an email. The sender apparently found it on Facebook. Since I’m not on Facebook I thought I would share it here.

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Our maple syrup season ended Saturday, March 25th . This is the second year we have made our own maple syrup, and I will share some of the things that we learned this year.

We started the syrup season by tapping the silver maple trees on our farm  on February 13th.  The weather over the four weeks that followed was very erratic as was the sap flow. Some days were warm and sunny and the sap seemed to flow good, then the temperatures would drop back down below freezing and the sap would stop. Some of the trees stopped flowing early on, so we moved taps to trees that had better sap flow. We lost track of the amount of sap that we harvested and the amount of syrup we made. I guess next year we should keep a daily log.

A few things we learned about the silver maples are that they seem to have a sugar content equal to or better than the sugar maples. When we cooked the sap down into syrup it took about 10 gallons or 40 quarts of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Silver maples make a dark syrup with a robust flavor. Silver maples bud out earlier than sugar maples so their sap flow season ends earlier.

We pulled all of the buckets before the wild wind storm that came through on March 8th. At this time the sap flow on the silver maples was to a minimum and the trees were beginning to bud.

The weekend following the storm we had freezing (winter) temperatures, but once the weather began to warm again my husband noticed that the sugar maples in the woods behind our house were not yet budding. With permission from the community manager he set 20 taps in the sugar maples.

From March 13 until March 25th he collect the sap from the sugar maples. The weather was still erratic with some days having great sap flow while others yielded little. As with the silver maples we cooked sap on days when we had collected 10 or more gallons of syrup. On March 25th, when my husband collected the last of the sap, the trees were flowing slowly but had not completely stopped and the sap had not turned cloudy. We were, however, done.  My best guestimate is that we cooked 3 1/2 gallons of syrup all together which at the ratio of 40 to 1 means we collected about 140 gallons of sap.

The syrup made from sugar maples was much lighter in both color and flavor than that of the silver maple. Both are very good.

Our biggest challenge in making syrup is finishing and filtering. Real maple syrup is usually very runny but we like our syrup a little thicker, so we first started cooking it down to a quite thick consistency. When we did this the we were unable to filter the final product, as the syrup was too thick to run through a filter. We discovered that there was no need to filter this because apparently any sand, or niter, had cooked into the syrup. We had no sand settle to the bottom of the jars. The other thing that happens is that the syrup has a tendency to turn to sugar. We didn’t consider it ruined because it still goes good on pancakes, French toast or waffles.

When we began cooking the syrup so that it was not so thick filtering it was still a challenge. We first tried pouring the syrup through a store bought filter. Even though it was still hot enough the syrup just sat on top of the filter. We next tried filtering it through felt. This worked well to remove a lot of the sand, but we still ended up with some sand in the bottom of the jar. After reading some websites I learned that before using the store bought filter it is best to pour hot or boiling water through it. So we tried this and the syrup ran through. Much of the sand was removed but we still ended up with a small amount of sand on the bottom of the jar. The sand is really nothing to worry about as it is largely comprised of calcium salts and malic acid, neither which are harmful when consumed. The act of removing the sand is purely for aesthetic purposes and a must for commercial producers.

It may seem like a lot of time and effort for so little syrup, but we consider this time well spent. Fortunately the season does not conflict with planting, growing or harvest seasons, and it is a great activity to get us out of the house in the late winter/early spring.

 

 

 

 

 

Life Is Happening Faster Than I Can Write

I don’t know about other writers but it takes me a while, anywhere from couple hours to a couple days, to write a blog post. I’ll write some, then go back and read and edit and stop to do other things or just collect my thoughts, then I’ll write some more and reread and edit and you get the picture. It seems to happen quite often that I’ll be working on one post when something else comes up, and I decide to write about that instead. At this point I have no fewer then a dozen drafts saved, potential posts that are started but just haven’t got completed and published yet. I suspect that some will get finished in the future, some may be deleted, and some of the thoughts may be incorporated in other post.

With several things on my mind this morning, I just realized that life is happening faster than I can write. (This is probably why I’ve never been able to keep a journal for very long.) Todays post we be about various things.

In Like A Lion

It’s hard to believe that today is March 1st already. See what I mean about life happening fast. Today is actually March 2nd. Still hard to believe. Whichever day it is, March did arrive and in our area it came in like a lion. I wouldn’t describe it as a raging or even roaring lion but the lion was not sleeping last night either, it was perhaps was just resting or playfully romping. We got a decent amount of snow, but as seems to be the case lately, not as much as the weather forecasters predicted. Probably the most accurate weather forecast that I heard yesterday was given by the radio DJ that said “were gonna get a lot of snow”. Since it was snowing pretty hard at that time it was a safe bet that he was right. Looking at flat surfaces outside it looks like we got about four inches, but since it was a light fluffy snow and the wind was blowing, some areas on the ground may have eight inches while others only have a couple. The “lion” may have caused adverse travel conditions, and shut down schools and senior centers, but I am not aware of any power outages or actual storm damage in our area. The “lion” did give us the opportunity to play in the snow a little today. 🙂 My big hope now is that when “March goes out like a lamb” it is not an unruly lamb.

Maple Syrup Update

One thing I didn’t realize about sap flow, and I don’t know how typical this is, was how it will stop and start again. Since the temperatures have been so unstable we have had the sap flow for a day or two, then stop for several days, then flow for a day or two, then stop again. We had a whole week between the first sap boiling and the next time we had sap to boil, but this past Sunday, with temperatures topping out near 60 degrees, was a great day to be at the farm boiling sap. While my husband was there all day, I joined him there for a few hours and took some pictures of the process that I did not get during the last syrup making.

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Cooking Sap At The Farm
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Cooking Sap

You can see in the above pictures that the sap has boiled down some.

The next series of pictures shows how the sap will foam up and boil over if the fire underneath is extremely hot.

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Stirring the pot and reducing the flame brought it back down.

The next picture shows that were getting close to the point where we will finish it off on the stove in the house. It has cooked way down and is turning brown. It also tastes sweet.

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Cooking Sap

When we brought the sap home the first step was to filter it. To do this we used a jelly bag set inside a flour sifter. It may not be a professional method, but it works. We did set the filter up on two small glasses to give the sap room to drain into the pan.

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Filtering Sap

We then followed the same process that we did previously, boiling the sap until it became thick and reached 219 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer. Instead of bottling it immediately like we did last time. We let the temperature drop to 200 degrees and filtered it again.

Last time we did not filter it after boiling, and we ended up with sand in the bottom of the jar. I did a little research and found out that the sand is formed during the boiling process, so in order to have clear syrup it must be filtered after the boiling is complete. This time we do not have any sand in it.

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Maple Syrup

My husband estimated cooking about 50 quarts of sap and our yield turned out to be these (10) 4 ounce jars of syrup, equal to 1 and 1/4 quarts, so our ratio of sap to syrup was 40:1. And the flavor is oh so good!

Sharing The Kitchen

With Sunday being such a nice day the sap continue to flow and my husband spent yesterday, again, cooking sap at the farm, while I spent the day at home peeling garlic to dehydrate. Once I got the approximately 3 lbs. of garlic peeled. I realized that Dom would be bringing syrup home to cook this evening. Knowing that once I put the garlic in the dehydrator the smell of garlic would permeate the house, I decided that I would wait. I don’t know if it would happen, but I didn’t want the syrup to pick up the smell and perhaps the flavor of garlic. Garlic flavored syrup just does not sound appetizing. I put the peeled garlic in a zip lock bag freezer bag and put it in the fridge for the night.

We cooked up some of the sap last night and the rest will remain in cold storage until we are ready to cook it. Today the garlic is in the dehydrator. It should be finished by tomorrow morning.

Chick Update

The chicks are doing well.

Getting their pin feathers.

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Enjoying their playhouse.

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And making new friends.

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Others Enjoyed Sunday’s Weather As Well

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The bees were out on Sunday.

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The Chickens enjoyed the weather as well.

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I don’t know if the pond ever completely froze over this year.

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Widely because the windmill has done it’s job.

You can’t tell from this picture but the windmill was spinning.

That’s All Folks

At least that’s enough for today. Until Next Time 🙂

 

Making Maple Syrup

The warm temperatures on Friday and Saturday were great for sap flow, so by the end of the day Saturday my husband had collected approximately 10 gallons or 40 quarts of sap. While collecting the sap from the sap buckets into plastic 5 gallon pails he filtered the sap through a honey filter that sits in the top of the 5 gallon bucket. This removed any solids that found their way into the sap. Overnight temperatures were cool enough to store the sap outside without it spoiling.

Yesterday morning he set out for the farm with the equipment he needed for cooking the sap. I didn’t get pictures of this part of the process yet, but hopefully I will as we collect and cook more sap. For equipment he took  a 30 quart stainless steel pot for cooking the syrup and a long handle stainless steel spoon for stirring. He also took a second pot that the hot syrup would be transferred to in order to bring it home. He packed a lunch for himself and some treats for Scout and Trooper.

Since we don’t have a sugar shack or sap house for processing the sap indoors, it was a blessing that the weather was favorable for keeping an outdoor fire going. In preparation for this my husband had constructed a special fire pit, in a high and dry location, and split several wheel barrels full of fire wood. He began his syrup making mission by getting the fire going around 10 A.M. with a goal of having some finished product by days end. Keeping the fire burning and the pot boiling were his main objectives. He first thought that boiling small amounts at a time (filling the pot 1/4 full) would speed up the process, but he quickly learned that each time he would add more cold sap the temperature would drop so dramatically that it would take 10-12 minutes to return to a boil. Realizing the whole pot was hot, he decided to fill he pot closer to the top and maintain the boil while adding only smaller amounts of sap as it boiled down. He said it took about two hours before it came to a rolling boil.

In mid afternoon he made a quick trip back to the house to bring Scout and Trooper (who apparently just wanted to lay in the van) and to grab some hot dogs that he could cook over the fire for dinner. At this point he was anticipating that it could be as late as 8 P.M. before he was done cooking down the sap.

Reality was that around 6 P.M., a long  eight hours after he began, and just in time for the chickens to be closed in their coop for the night, the sap had boiled down enough that the rest of the process could be done in the kitchen.

When he returned home we poured the cooked-down sap into a much smaller pan.

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Well On It’s Way To Becoming Syrup

We heated it for a few minutes before deciding this would be a good time to filter it. We had decided to use a juice (or jelly) bag, that I had on hand for filtering the “sand”(a byproduct of boiling sap) out of the syrup. This seemed to work well. We then returned the sap to a boil and watched closely as it continued to boil down. My husband also told me to take some bacon out of the freezer to cook with tomorrows waffles for breakfast.

Once it seemed to be thickening I put in a candy thermometer. It needed to be brought up to 219 degrees  fahrenheit or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.

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Watching The Temperature Closely

While I watched the thermometer, my husband used a spatula dipped in the syrup to check for sheeting – the syrup forms a sheet on the spatula instead of running off in droplets.

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Woo Hoo! It’s Syrup!

When the syrup was sheeting on the spatula and the temperature reached 219 degrees, which happened about the same time, we poured the syrup into sterilized ball jars.

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A Little More Than 1 1/2 Pints of Syrup

Of course we had been tasting our product along the way, and I can honestly say that, while I don’t have a long history of tasting pure maple syrup, this is the best maple syrup that I have ever tasted.

This mornings breakfast menu included bacon and blueberry waffles, (with frozen blueberries from last springs harvest and our farm fresh egg), and of course our own maple syrup. Yumm!

http://andersonsmaplesyrup.com/index.php?page=nutritionalinformation  This link has some really good nutritional information about real maple syrup.

While we don’t call it a bucket list, making maple syrup has certainly been on our to-do list for quite a long time and we are thrilled that we have done it. 🙂

Since the weather has cooled again the sap is not flowing, this weird weather pattern has only left us wondering when the next sap will flow and how much syrup we might end up with this year. But in the mean time we have realized why real maple syrup costs so much.

Tapping Maple Trees

We have been using a lot of maple syrup lately. It’s delicious on our French toast or waffles that we have been having for breakfast several times a week, but have you shopped for maple syrup lately? I’m talking about real maple syrup not, the corn syrup that is flavored up to taste like maple syrup. It’s expensive. So much so that we have recently opted for the fake stuff in effort to keep our grocery bill down. Real maple syrup has truly become a delicacy. A quick check at the Walmart website showed me prices ranging from 54 cents up to 94 cents per ounce. 54 cents might not seem like much but you don’t buy just one ounce. 12 ounces at 54 cents is $6.48, a quart which is 32 ounces at 54 cents would be $17.28, and a gallon which equals 128 ounces at 54 cents per ounce comes to $69.12. Keep in mind those are the low end prices; at 94 cents an ounce a gallon would cost over $120.

So considering this, and that fact that we have had the equipment, needed for tapping the trees and collecting the sap, stored in our shed for the past few years, tapping some maple trees was a no-brainer.

We have been watching the weather forecast for about the last two weeks, since sap flow is dependent on the weather. Basically sap flows from trees that are still dormant when temperatures rise above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night. For a thorough explanation click here   http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu/produc/sapflow.htm    Since todays temperature was forecasted to be in the high 40’s or low 50’s and daytime temperatures for the next week to be mostly above freezing, it seemed like a good day to get the trees tapped.

After breakfast, we started out by tapping some sugar maples.

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Tapping A Sugar Maple

We used manual drill, and when I did the tapping of one of the trees I was surprised at how easy it was to drill the hole. A few things to note about drilling are that it should be done at a slight upward angle and drilled no more than 2 inches into the tree. I’m not sure if you can see in the picture that the drill bit had a piece of tape on it to mark the 2 inch mark. Recommended height is a height that is comfortable, so reaching up or bending down is not necessary. Also the ideal spot is one that has not been previously tapped and has no visible scars.

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Spile In Place

After drilling the hole the spile is tapped into the hole. Again I was somewhat surprised at how easy it was. It only took a few gentle taps with a light hammer and the spile was securely in place.

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Sap Bucket Hanging From Spile

The next step was to hang the sap bucket. The bucket has a small hole in it, and the spile has a hook below the spout that is designed to hold the bucket. When the bucket is hung from the hook the spout then reaches over the top edge of the bucket. When the sap flows from the tree it runs down the spout and into the bucket.

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Sap Bucket With Lid

The final step in the tapping process is to install the lid. Fortunately we had figured out how to assemble these a few days prior to doing the tapping, as it was a bit of a puzzle. The back edge of the lid is folded over but cut out in the center. There is a very thin metal rod that gets inserted through the first half of the fold. It then goes through two holes that were drilled into the top of the spile, then lastly through the second half of the fold on the lid. At this point the lid is secured to the spile, and it only rests on the lip of the bucket. The lid sits on an angle and has quite a bit of overhang, so it does serve to keep rain, potential snowfall, and anything else falling from above, out of the bucket. It does not sit tight on the bucket, so there is still a chance that things such as bugs or anything coming at it from the proper angle might get in. Those things can be filtered out later. This design allows for the bucket to be removed from the spile, for empting, without having the lid in the way. A very clever design.

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Some Trees Can Have More Than One Tap

http://maple.dnr.cornell.edu/FAQ.htm  gives this information to determine how many taps a tree can support.  “How many taps should you have on a maple tree?
A healthy tree 10-17 inches in diameter (31-53 inch circumference) should have no more than one tap. A tree 18-24 inches in diameter (57-75 inch circumference) should have no more than two taps. A tree larger than 25 inches in diameter (79-inch circumference) should have no more than three taps.”

 

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Tapping A Sugar Maple

We put half of our 18 buckets on sugar maples, but we also wanted to tap our silver maples at the farm. While silver maples indeed produce sap, it is said that they are not idea because the sugar content is lower than that of the sugar maple, thus requiring more sap to make the syrup. They also bud out earlier, therefore they have a shorter sap flow season.

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Silver Maple

The first thing we noticed when tapping the silver maples was that the sap began to flow immediately when the tree was drilled. Because it is clear it doesn’t show up in this picture, but there is sap coming out.

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Tapped Silver Maple

Unlike sugar maples that have a single large trunk growing straight up, the silver maple tends to have many trunks growing from near ground level. They grow outward on an angle. Because of this the buckets do not hang very straight. They will need to be emptied more often to prevent the sap from spilling over the side.

Upon seeing the sap run from the tree my husband tasted it. This was no surprise to me since he has a long history of tasting sap. As a kid he worked for a neighborhood maple syrup operation, and ever since I’ve know him, whenever he sees sap coming out of cut wood, even if it’s burning in the fire place, he dips his finger in the sap and tastes it. When he tasted the sap from the silver maple he responded with “it’s sweet, it has good sugar content.” I then tasted then sap and learned that my palate is not as refined as his. To me it tasted like water with just the slightest hint of sweetness. This makes sense to me because the sugar content of the sap from and sugar maple is reported only to be between 2 and 3% and the sugar content of the silver maple sap is  between 1.5 and 1.75%.

 

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Curious Creatures

As with most things we do at the farm the chickens had to investigate. (and who doesn’t love a good chicken picture)

Tapping the trees is only the beginning, and I might add the easy part, of making syrup. With that statement I must correct the comments made on my earlier post. https://donteatitsoap.com/2016/02/17/can-you-guess-what-we-are-doing/   Erin’s comment was, “Dad says gathering maple syrup” and I replied “Dad is correct”. What I should have said is that dad has the gist of what we are doing, but technically (and I’m sure Dad knows this) you don’t simply gather maple syrup from a tree. The sap buckets will be checked at least twice a day, and the sap that is collected in the buckets will only become syrup after a long boiling process. It will take 40-50 gallons of sap to boil down into one gallon of syrup. So as we continue to collect sap and make syrup I will post updates on our progress. I hope you will check back to see how it goes.