Maple Syrup Harrold Style
We’ve been talking about trying to make our own maple syrup for years. This year, we finally gave it a go and embraced an element of quintessential Canadiana. This adventure in maple syrup making was a beautiful way for us to spend time as a family working together for a common (and sweetly delicious) goal. It’s also been a wonderful way to combine our homeschool and self-sufficiency endeavours.
When we first moved onto our property, we found a collection of old sap buckets and spiles, rusted beyond redemption. Although we could not use this find, it put the idea into our heads that we could tap our maples and make our own syrup. This notion stewed away in our minds for years, always re-emerging in late winter when we would find sap-cicles hanging from the maple trees while anticipating the Sugar Moon (the full moon in February or early March).
I’m not sure what made us decide to try this year, but try we did. I think it was our foodie daughter who was the impetus, as well as the fact that February had no full moon but instead January and March each had two. So, eager to give it a try, we picked up a tapping kit for beginners from TSC with 15 taps, buckets, and other equipment.
The first step was figuring out how many trees we could feasibly tap. This meant teaching the little ones to identify a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) without leaves to aid in identification. In the area around our home we found 27 trees we could tap, with several of them large enough to have two or three taps. Not wanting to over-do-it on our first attempt, we made seven taps and hung our buckets. We followed the wisdom of YouTube Syrup Makers and placed the taps on the south side of the tree, 3 - 4 feet above the ground, and positioned above a large root or beneath a large branch to intercept the heavy flow of sap up from the roots and into the branches.
And then we waited for the perfect conditions to make the sap run. The flow is heaviest when a night with below freezing temperatures precedes a sunny day with above zero temperatures. We had three beautiful sunny days and collected 12 gallons of sap. The little ones would check the buckets numerous times a day and report back to us. Come evening we went out with a 5 gallon bucket and collected all the sap for the day. We stored the sap in a fridge in the barn until we had enough to attempt our first batch of syrup.
On the big day we dug out from Dad’s home brew supplies an old propane burner and a 15 gallon pot. We set them up in our drive shed and poured roughly 12 gallons of sap (after running it through a filter) into the pot and turned on the propane. We pulled up some chairs and got cozy. It took two hours just for the pot to reach a low boil. We kept it steaming away until well after the little ones were in bed. We had reduced our sap by about half but never got the pot any hotter than a low boil. When we decided to call it quits for the day, we put the lid on the pot, fastened it down with some wire to keep any curious critters from getting in, and left it to cool in the drive shed. The next day we brought the pot into the house and let it come up to room temperature before putting it onto the wood stove. We turned on the exhaust fans and let it simmer away. Slowly throughout the day the level in the pot dropped. But not fast enough. So, once more, we moved the pot to our stove top, set the burner on high and waited for several more hours for the the water to boil off. All the while we had a candy thermometer set in the pot and checked it regularly. We were looking for it to reach 219℉, the magic point when your sap becomes syrup.
Finally it happened! But oh the anticipation as we waited. The little ones readily accepted Dad’s offers of samples. A plate was cooling in the freezer to test if the liquid would gel into a syrup. Snow waited on the porch so we could pour hot syrup over it. And all the while a wonderful, maple syrup aroma filled the house. If you’ve ever been to a sugar shack and smelled the steam off the boiling sap, then you’ll know what I’m referring to.
In the end we boiled our 12 gallons of sap into 1.5 litres of syrup. In our eagerness we pulled the syrup off a bit too early (in our defense it was not a digital candy thermometer) and it is a tad runnier than store bought syrup. But the flavour is delicious! We had waffles for dinner tonight just so we could eat more of our syrup.
We still have the taps in the trees and buckets collecting each sweet drip. The sap will continue to run for 4 - 6 weeks. After our first adventure, we’ve come up with ways to improve on the process; a propane burner in a cold drive shed is not very effect and boiling sap in the house for hours on end is a bad idea. At least the reward for all our time and effort is very sweet indeed.