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North Shore Permaculture Collaborative Message Board › Backyard maple sugaring

Backyard maple sugaring

A former member
Post #: 22
UPDATE: Whew, just finished the first batch, and along the way our experience from last year started coming back to us. I discovered some short-cuts and tricks along the way and jotted them down. Now that I have begun a second round of sap, I'll try to practice what I preach, and hope it's helpful for those of you who plan to start cooking tomorrow. (Sorry if this is long, but I wanted to get the notes down while they're fresh in my mind.)

BEFORE YOU START YOUR OUTDOOR EVAPORATING: Make a note of how much sap you begin with. Do the math ahead of time to figure out approximately how much syrup you are supposed to get based on your starting quantity of sap. (Example: If you start with 20 gallons of sap, you will end up with around a half-gallon of syrup.)

EVAPORATING: Don't be afraid to crank up the fire under your pans when you start evaporating so that you get a robust boil. Looking back over this first couple of boiling days, we were too cautious and could probably have cut down the evaporating time considerably if we hadn't kept the sap on a simmer as long as we did.

Pour a small amount in your pan before you place it on the hot grate.

Don't pour in all of your sap at once. Get the first bit hot and then slowly dribble in the rest so that you maintain a steady temp. (This is another mistake we made. We had a lot of stuff to do around the house this past weekend, so we just kept topping off our containers and leaving them.)

WHEN YOU'RE READY TO BRING THE SAP INDOORS (assuming you want to finish it on the stove):
Select your final boil-down pot so that it can accommodate roughly 2-3 times the amount of syrup you hope to end up with. (Try not to bring the sap indoors until you have reduced the original amount down significantly.)

Don't use a pan that's too high or you won't get a fast rate of evaporation. Depending on how much sap you have when you bring it indoors, you might want to start with one saucepan and then scale down to the next smaller size. A "dutch oven" style pot is better than a stockpot because it is lower and wider.

Before adding your sap to the final boiling pot, pour some water in a measuring cup equal to whatever finished amount of syrup you expect. Pour this into the pan and look at where the water hits. This is how far down you will need to boil your sap. Example: if you expect to end up with a 2 quarts of syrup, measure 2 quarts of water into the pan and see where it hits.

I made myself a handy "dipstick" by using a bamboo skewer. I inserted it into the water after doing the above step, and then wrapped a piece of masking tape around the skewer at the point where the water level (the "finish" line) hit the skewer.

Then, after adding the hot sap brought in from outdoors, I immersed the skewer again and marked my starting level. This gave me a good gauge to see where I was coming from and how much farther I had to go.

BOILING: If you aren't seeing a regular bubbling brew when the thermometer registers 212, you know you're getting close to the end, and you might need to raise the heat a bit. I noticed that by the time most of the water had evaporated, the remaining sap would no longer boil at 212. It had to be hotter.

As you get close to what you think is the finishing point, get a small juice glass and drizzle a tsp. of hot test sap into the cup. Let it cool (it won't take long) and then swirl it around the glass to see if you get any "sheeting." If you have any real maple syrup in the fridge, take it out and drizzle a teaspoon into a second glass and use this as your benchmark.

Remember that hot syrup is much thinner than when it is cool, so don't be fooled into thinking the syrup in your pan isn't ready because it isn't thick and "syrupy." (Also, real maple syrup is not as thick as the fake stuff.)

When I got to the point that my thermometer was reading consistently at 220 (the boiling temp. of sap), even when the stove-top was turned down to the lowest temp., the syrup was coating the walls of my juice glass. Although it wasn't quite as thick as my store-bought syrup, I decided to stop anyway because I feared that at this point I'd be taking a risk if I kept trying to get a rolling boil. This might have required that I ramp it up to 221 degrees or above.

We figure that over the two days (Sat. and Sun.) we boiled about 17 gallons of sap. Based on the number of 1-cup jelly jars I filled, it looks like we have about a half gallon of syrup. Hmmm. This either means that we actually boiled more sap than our original estimate (none of our containers had the exact amount in them), or that I should have boiled the sap down just a bit longer.

Gotta run and add more wood. This time around, we're keeping track of our starting amount so we have something more solid for comparison.

Good luck with your processing!

lee l.
user 13126023
Beverly, MA
Post #: 9
Wow -- so much good info. It turns out most of my trees actually belong to my neighbor, so we had a talk today about tapping them next year. He is willing, and actually has another old woodlot in Wenham full of very big old trees. He says most of them (but not all) are Norway maples. Do these give sweet enough sap to tap, does anyone know?
Gloucester, MA
Post #: 44
Well, I should soon be done with my syrup. I boiled down around six gallons today. Can't remember when I started but between curious neighbors and trying to setup the logs in the chimney, I probably gained a few additional hours. Yield: 2 cups...I'm so proud :) Not sure if I will really end up gaining much more sap in the next week; what I do I think I'll use for Ginger beer.
lee l.
user 13126023
Beverly, MA
Post #: 12
YUM! (re ginger beer)
Amesbury, MA
Post #: 40
To me it sound like Kate might want to do a sugaring meetup. What do you think?
Christie W.
user 12843200
Manchester, MA
Post #: 1
Hi all,

Many moons ago I and some housemates tapped our maple trees outdoors next to a running stream. Next to the stream was a large stone outdoor grill/fireplace. We had large vats to boil down the maple syrup which we did for two days. There were four of us and it was such a rich, rewarding and memorable experience (yup, it was 30+ years ago!).

As it was ready, we simple bottled it up right where we were.

I'm guessing there are good supplies to prep and it sounds like that knowledge is here already. I comment to you Lee (hi!) because building a makeshift place to cook down syrup may be uncomplicated, especially if you happen to have wood to use for a heat source.

I'd be happy to join in and provide time hanging out with the boiling down.


lee l.
user 13126023
Beverly, MA
Post #: 19
Yes to sugaring meetup.
Amesbury, MA
Post #: 41
The bags are hanging off the trees at Sparhawk. I think it will be an early year.
A former member
Post #: 254
I'd like to try this again. Last years effort started out so well... then turned into a drawn out debacle over various cooking setups.

I'm going to start collecting sap this week from our silver maple. The buds are plumping a bit already!

Would anyone like to host the cooking portion of a meetup?

Gloucester, MA
Post #: 63
Has anyone tapped yet this season? Seems like it is about that time.
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