This is a guest post from my friend Becky S. who lives in the northeast. One day she happened to mention making maple syrup with the kids. Definitely a cool learning experience for anyone but especially exciting when it comes from your very own trees. She and her kids had a great time and she agreed to share the story of their first-time sugaring.
Although maple syrup is a form of sugar, if it’s the real stuff, it has some modest added mineral benefits as well. One tablespoon provides some zinc and a whopping 33% of your daily requirement for manganese (important for bone health, nerve health, blood sugar stability, and thyroid function). Definitely a better choice than the fake, flavored syrup so many people tend to substitute for the real thing.
Here’s Becky’s story:
Five or six years ago, we took our children to a local Maple Sugaring Fest. We were told the charming story of how the Native Americans discovered syrup, boiling it in hollowed logs by dropping hot stones into the sap. When we stepped inside the sugar shack, we were engulfed by steam. We got to see the sap being boiled down in large vats. It was at that point, while receiving my first maple-scented facial, that I became determined to someday make my own syrup from the trees in our backyard. There really is something quite amazing about boiling the bejeebies out of “water” from a tree to create sweet, amber goodness that my children delight in pouring over hot pancakes.
Two weeks ago, perhaps in an attempt to avoid spring cleaning the house, I found myself googling “How to Tap Maple Trees” and discovered Tapmytrees.com which told me everything I needed to get started. Apparently, there was no time to spare. In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a tad warm lately; not exactly the right conditions for tapping trees. In our case, a little ignorance was pure bliss…or should I say “pure syrup.” Here’s what we learned from the experience and what we will do differently next year…because there WILL be a next year!
Helpful things to know
1. Are you actually tapping a maple tree? Thank goodness for my “Local Flora” class in college. We tapped Norway Maples. Mark your trees during the summer when their leaves are easier to identify.
2. A Spile is the metal tap that goes into the tree from which the sap drips. I found a kit with spiles and hooks at our local Agway.
3. Drill the tap holes underneath large limbs. The sap will run much better in that location.
4. Sap is sweet. Bugs and little fuzzy critters really like the way it tastes. Be prepared to greet guests in your buckets if you are not using lids. (Ewwwwww)
5. Keep a cheese cloth handy when collecting the sap so you can filter out unwanted guests. (Ewwwww again)
6. Have a cold place to keep the sap until you are ready to boil. It must stay cold or it will get rancid. We stored ours in 1-gal covered containers, surrounded by ice in keg buckets.
What not to do
1. Do not use a concrete drill bit on maple trees…or any tree, for that matter. It takes FOREVER to drill the 2.5” hole for the spile, using up the battery on your cordless drill and turning the wood into putty. Invest in a regular 7/16” drill bit. They’re about $8 at Home Depot. Better yet, call your neighbor to borrow his.
2. Do not think tin foil will be an adequate cover for the sap buckets. Trust me, it’s not. (Read #4 above). Clean, sterilized gallon milk jugs are a great alternative to buckets.
3. Do not wait too long to try tapping. Keep an eye on the weather and the maple syrup blogs. Ideally, the temps should go below freezing at night and above during the day.
So, you’re wondering how it all turned out?
We managed to collect 10 gallons of sap in a day and a half from 7 taps. We boiled it outside (a must!) on a propane turkey burner for approximately 8-9 hours (divided over 2 days). Our final product: one quart of syrup that we affectionately refer to as “Liquid Gold.”
It is delicious!
Next year we are going for a full gallon!