Springtime in Vermont meant it was time to tap our maple trees on our farm. We never made enough to sell but we made enough to keep our family happy! It was a fun time for all of us. This is the knowledge I want to share with you.
Sap starts flowing in sugar maple (rock and hard maples) trees in the late winter or early spring. It is best to have warm days and cold nights. The average tap will produce 5 to 15 gallons of sap (this is not the syrup yet!) Some trees can produce 40 to 80 gallons of sap.
What will you need to make your own maple syrup? First, of course, you need a few trees. It takes 10 gallons of sap to make just one quart of maple syrup. You will need to put a small 7/16 ” hole in your tree. To do this you will need a bitstock tool and a 7/16″ bit. Never tap a tree that is less than 10″ in diameter. Measure your tree about 4 1/2 feet above ground to figure out the diameter. A tree that is 10″ to 20″ in diameter should never have more than one tap. A 20″ tree can have 2 taps. If a tree is over 25″ in diameter it can have 3 taps but a tree should never have more taps than this.
You have the trees, you have the bitstock and bit. Now you need one spout for each tap. You can often purchase spouts at hardware stores in States that make a lot of maple syrup. You can also purchase spouts on-line at sites that sell maple syrup making products. Or you can make your own spouts by taking a piece of wood that is a little smaller than 7/16″ in diameter and making it into your own spout. Make sure the wood (such as elder wood) has soft insides so you can push the insides out to make it hollow. Crave one end to a point to make it easier for the sap to flow. Push the soft insides out with a smaller diameter item.
Now you need containers to catch the sap. Clean plastic milk jugs are good containers. Punch a hole in the top flat side of the jug. This hole can now be put onto the hook of the purchased spout. If you make your own spout, take a wire and make a loop so you can hang the container onto your wooden spout. Make sure the you cut the top off the container so the sap flows into the jug.
You will next need to have a metal pot to boil your sap in. It should hold at least 5 gallons with room at the top for the sap to boil. To stop the sap from boiling over the top, you can rub the rim of the pot with butter or oil.
Never cook the sap inside your house as it produces an abundance of steam. It is best to cook outside on either a fireplace or on the side burner of a BBQ grill. It takes a long time for the sap to boil down enough to make it into syrup. Also have on hand a candy thermometer and clean, glass jars.
Now it is time to tap your trees. Drill a hole with your 7/16″ bit. Go about 2 to 3 inches into the tree at a height that is comfortable for you to reach the containers. Drill in an area where the bark is unblemished. Drill the hole slightly upward at an angle so the sap can flow easily. Next put your spout into the hole. Make sure it is tight. Hang the container on the hook or if using your homemade spout than hang your wire on the spout. Keep your container covered to keep rain, snow and foreign materials out of the container. It is best to drill your tree when it is warm outside so the tree does not split.
Sap will flow best when the night has been cold and the day is warm. Make sure you collect your sap often as it is just like milk. It will spoil if it gets too warm outside. If you do not have the time to boil the sap when it is collected, than keep it refrigerated until you have time.
Make sure your fireplace fire is hot and you have lots of dry hard wood to keep the fire going. Or boil the sap on the burner on the side of your BBQ grill.
Pour the sap into the pot. You can put as much sap as you want in the pot but make sure it has room to boil. Also never let the sap get lower than 1 1/2″ deep in the pot or it will burn. Nothing tastes worse than burnt maple syrup! . As your sap boils down to make the syrup, you can continue to add more sap to the pan. You can add the sap either cold or at room temperature to the boiling sap.
How will you know when you have syrup? Use your thermometer. The temp should be 7 degrees F. above the boiling point. The boiling point depends on your elevation. Check the temperature when the pot first starts to boil then add 7 degrees to that number.
When your syrup is finally done, (it takes a long time but it is worth it!), pour the syrup into clean and sterile canning jars. Fill to the top with very little air space on top. Seal the jar with the lid. Laying the jar on its side will help it to seal. You can also freeze the jars once they cool a little. The syrup, if it was done right, will not freeze but putting the jars in the freezer will keep the syrup fresh just in case the jar did not seal properly.
Once a jar is open than it has to be refrigerated. It will stay indefinitely in the refrigerate. If you do get any mold on the syrup, you can cook the syrup again to a temperature of 190 degrees F. Remove the mold with a skimmer spoon and repack in clean glass jars.
I hope you enjoy the fruits of your labor! Nothing is better than fresh pancakes on a Sunday morning with your own homemade maple syrup!