Last week we collected sap from our maple trees in order to make homemade maple syrup. (See how we tapped the trees here) We tapped the trees on Sunday and by Saturday afternoon we had about 72 gallons of sap! With a 40:1 ratio, that means that we should have just under 2 gallons of syrup. Here’s part two of our syrup making endeavor.
During the week, we collected our sap and stored them in buckets on the north side of the barn so they could stay cool. The weather stayed in the high 40’s-low 50’s all week so it was able to stay fresh and not spoil. But be warned, sap can spoil! Make sure you’re storing it in a cool place and not storing it any longer than you have to.. or else it turns sour and forms into a snot like consistency and you’ll have to throw it out. Now that you have that visual in your brain, let’s talk about cooking!
Our friend Kurt (his Kurtness), of the Cassilly Crew lent us his maple syrup cooking pan. This thing is a huge stainless steel pan, divided into two sections with a pour spout for each section. The large amount of surface area will allow us to cook it down at a more even temperature and a lot quicker than using an open pot. Dave and Forrest went down to the swimmin’ hole and set up two metal saw horses in the fire pit, set the pan on top and built a fire underneath.
Now the process itself of making maple syrup isn’t all that exciting. It’s basically like watching paint dry. We’d start off with about 10-15 gallons in each side and wait for it to come up to a boil and cook down. When it did cook down, we put in another bucket, skim off some foam and repeat. And that’s about it. I recommend making a “thing” out of it. Have your buddies come down with some beers, BBQ, a lot of free time and have yourself a good ol’ fashioned country maple syrup party. I also recommend starting early. We started about 1:00pm and finished cooking the sap outside about 6pm.
After we put in the last bucket, it took about an hour or two for it to cook down and form that beautiful amber color. It turns really quick so make sure you have a good eye on it! As soon as it started to turn amber, we emptied out all of the sap into a couple of stock pots/5 gallon buckets and brought them back up to the house to finish.
This is another fun waiting game. You think you’re really close to being done at this point but don’t get too excited… you’re not close. Not at all. Crank your stove up to high and let the sap boil in your stock pot along with a candy thermometer. Let it boil on the stove and cook off the remaining water. After the water is cooked off, the sap will change properties and turn into syrup. Your sap will start to get really foamy, rise quickly and thicken up all at the same time. You’re looking for that magic temperature of 219 degrees and once you’ve hit that, make sure you have your canning supplies nearby.
We used a piece of cheesecloth, pint jars and our canning funnel to put up our syrup. The cheesecloth will catch any large pieces of sediment that may be in your syrup but if there’s a few small pieces of sediment floating in your jar, you’ll be fine. That’s nothing to worry about. Because the syrup is so hot and has such a high sugar content there’s no need to run it through a water bath, the jars will seal themselves.
And there you have it, a perfect pint jar of your own homemade maple syrup. I wish I could describe the smell of it. The whole house was filled with the sweet aroma of maple sugar. For someone who grew up on Aunt Jemima’s syrup, I can honestly say that I’ve never had anything like it before. I absolutely recommend tapping your own trees for sap, but I will say that it’s much more worthwhile to do in large batches. It’s also more fun if you have some people to help you out and keep you company while you’re watching water boil. Guess this means I have to make pancakes for breakfast this weekend.