Well this has been quite the year to try our hand at making maple syrup. The conditions have been perfect, the sap is plentiful and we'd consider our first year a success. Rory has collected over 90 gallons (!!!) of sap and we can hardly keep up with the evaporating. We found food-grade 5 gallon buckets to keep the sap until we can get it boiled down. On Saturday night I came home around 10:30 after meeting my sister for dinner. I turned into our lane and found Rory next to his fire, waiting for the sap to boil down. It was quite the site.
We're mostly excited because this much syrup is going to mean lots of gifts for family and Rory is hoping to bottle enough to sell. We have learned a lot about Minnesota Grown at our farm class and are really excited about the thought of recouping some of our costs this first year.
There is a scene in Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the Little House books, where a late-season snow caused the maple trees to produce a whole lot of sap. They called it Sugar Snow.
Well, we woke to snow. And it's still snowing as I type this.
At some point this morning we noticed our sap bags almost overflowing. Sugar snow! Even though the sap had mostly dried up since our last collection, we decided to leave the taps a few more days to see what the colder temps and snow would do. Turns out, they would do a lot. Rory collected 19 gallons of sap today! The previous one-day record was 7 gallons. There was so much sugar water and the 4 gallon bags were refilling so fast that he had to go buy more containers to hold the stuff until we have the chance to boil it down.
We're very much ready for springtime. But I have to say, having something so exciting happening today made the day feel sort of special. Which is the positive spin I'm throwing out there, because I'm starting to realize winter doesn't much care that I think she should wrap it up. Until then, we'll be happily boiling down sap into syrup, glad to have something fun to do outside until these 6 inches (and falling) of snow melts away.
And for a super great read, go and read Hootenannie who likens April weather to a hormonal teenage girl. Hysterical.
A few weeks ago I told about how we tapped our maple trees. We ended up tapping twelve trees and out of those twelve, nine produced sap. We're new at all of this, and not completely sure why some trees produced more and others less, but we were thrilled by the amount of sap we were able to collect. Being novices, our expectations were low.
In all we gathered about twenty gallons of sap. Rory built an evaporator with cement block and a metal grate. We ordered buffet table serving dishes to boil the sap in. They worked well. I think Rory would say they were hard to carry when full of sap and sort of difficult to maneuver while on the fire, but for the price, they did the job very well.
Rory kept the fire hot, and I kept him company. We decided to wake up early Sunday morning and evaporate before the kids woke up. We sat by the fire as the sky brightened while sitting in our camping chairs. Felt a lot like camping, actually.
Rory let the pans boil down for a long time and then consolidated them into two pans on the fire. When he had only two gallons of sap left in the buffet pans, he poured it into our canning pot and brought the sap into the kitchen to boil on the stove.
We purchased a Hydrometer, some cool tool that told us when the sap had boiled to the correct syrup consistency. Rory would fill the metal vile with syrup and then place the thermometer into the vile. When the syrup was not ready the thermometer would sink to the bottom. But when it was getting close, the thermometer bobbed in the vile.
Thirty-two on the scale (the red line) is the magic number. That's a pretty awesome picture, right?!!
Using cheese cloth, Rory filtered the syrup into mason jars. And then I staged the jars for a photo shoot in front of my pretty dishes.
The night our first batch of syrup was completed Rory and I stayed up way too late and ate eggos at the kitchen table. I think it will forever be a favorite memory of mine, and probably the most appreciated and classy eggo I've ever enjoyed.
We spent Saturday outside with the kids, tapping our maple trees. You might remember when we went to Murphy's Landing to learn more about making maple syrup. We did not know then that in one years time, we would be tapping our own trees!
At some point this winter we decided to give it a go and were thrilled to find a cluster of silver maple trees in our woods, as well as many in our back yard. We have tapped twelve trees so far.
Above you can see Rory drilling the hole, placing the tap and gently tapping it in. We used plastic bags with metal rims instead of the traditional bucket.
Tapping a Sugar Maple Tree from Becca Groves on Vimeo.
From the start, our maple sugar flow rate (sap) was about one drop per second. We think it might speed up as the weather gets warmer. The sugar maple sap is basically water: only 1-2% sugar content. It will take several days and maybe weeks to get enough sap to make maple syrup. After we have collected enough sap we boil off the water until it is a high enough sugar content for syrup. It can take 50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup! Now we know why the stuff is so pricey!
For the boiling process, Rory is building our own wood burning evaporator at the end of our driveway. I promise to document and share the whole process...