Nolan came home from school all excited about the idea of tapping maple trees and making his own syrup.
|Where I should have spent last weekend.....|
Nolan had wanted to tap the trees on our property, which would have been convenient, but I knew they weren't sugar maples, so I reached out to some friend, the Eckerts. They've got a nice property set into the woods with quite a few sugar maples on it, and they were happy to loan out their trees to us.
|Drilling the hole for the tap|
The first thing you should know about the sap, is that it isn't really amber. It runs out and looks like water when you collect it. I had no idea about this, but I was suddenly interested in the process of how the thin water like substance becomes thick and sugary. I learned that it has to evaporate down to do this, and in fact the ratio is around 40:1. Wait, 40:1? Does that mean I have to collect 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of finished syrup? Yes it does, oh goody.
|Nolan at tree # 2, tapped and ready|
This helps to make a better syrup and is only one step in the purity process. You try and collect just the sap, you strain it as you fill the evaporator, you skim off the foam occasionally as it boils and you filter it when it is finally syrup. I tried to do as much of the processing as possible with Nolan present, but you have to process the sap within a day or two of collecting, so I had to do some myself. The pan I bought had a metal clip that extended from the side where I could balance the strainer when I had to add sap myself, another lucky break for us first timers.
|Final filtering of the sap/syrup|
The sap took the better part of two days to boil down to the point that we weren't comfortable doing it on the burner anymore, so we moved indoors and used a teflon pot to help avoid burning. We used coffee filters, suspended in a wire strainer to do the final filtering. I am guessing that there are better, more effective things to use than these, but in this instance, we used what we had. As it was, we had 2 more purchases to make before this project was finished. We didn't have an accurate, easily read thermometer, to tell when it reached the correct temperature and we didn't have anything to put the finished syrup in. We paid $3.50 for the candy thermometer and $8.00 for a case of 8oz canning jars from the local hardware store. The final finish took about 2 hours on the stove with us both checking it frequently. I had trouble reading the thermometer even with my dollar store cheaters on. It kept steaming up inside the glass which made it difficult. Syrup has a boiling point that is 7 degrees above water, so you really need a good thermometer in order to be able to see the exact finishing point.
One person told me that the syrup will foam when it is finished, and if that is true, we may have over processed our syrup slightly and darkened the color unnecessarily. The grading of maple syrup has everything to do with the clearness or translucency of the finished product; the lighter, the better. Our first attempt resulted in a light to medium amber, but we wanted to make sure we actually made it to the syrup stage. We had to do some research on canning next, as we had no idea on how to do this. My mother and father had canned things at home, but I never really paid that much attention to the process. I do remember that they used a pressure cooker, but I found, in this instance it was unnecessary. We sterilized the jars, we filled them to leave just a little head space, and then we screwed the button tops on tightly.
We placed them on their sides on the counter, and kept watch that our cat, Nibbler, didn't knock them off to play with them. About an hour after Nolan went to bed that night, the kitchen was filled with the cacophony of popping buttons on the jars. They all sealed properly. The next day, we made some custom labels for fun, and our project was complete. Several days of collecting sap netted us 23 gallons. A couple of days of evaporating and finishing netted us 80 oz of finished syrup or 10-8 oz jars. For the accountants among you, we had spent $77.49 to produce 10 jars, so our syrup cost us $7.75 a jar ! It was quite the eye opener to realize the amount of time, money and effort to produce the product. The Saturday following, we sat down and had French toast for breakfast and used our finished product. It was delicious. So, to finish the blog, my final thoughts are that it wasn't really that hard, it was a lot of fun to go through the process and to spend time with Nolan that way, and we were able to produce a decent product our first time trying. All in all I'd say that I would be willing to repeat the adventure, because while I don't consider myself a great father, I do have my moments.