Making Maple Syrup

Reader Contribution by Marlena Chestnut Shifflett
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A couple of years ago in my usual fashion, I cheerfully returned home from work announcing to my husband that I had bought a set of taps, and we were going to make maple syrup. Being the good sport that he usually is, he just asked me exactly what that meant for him. I explained to him that there wasn’t really that much to it, just drill a single hole at a downward angle with a 5/8th-inch drill bit in each tree we intended to tap, attach a milk jug with a hole drilled in the cap for the hose to run into and tie it to the tree; then just check on a daily basis to collect the sap. The tree does the majority of the work.

Though at the time he appeared doubtful that that was all there was to it, after my second maple syrup season, he has accepted that it really is that simple.

Though every year I do get a little overwhelmed with all the sap that is collected, around 60 gallons each year so far, making maple syrup at home is something anyone can do. It takes around 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Trees should be tapped in February, and pulled in late March or early April before the trees begin to bud. As the sap is collected, it has to be kept cold, otherwise it will sour. Luckily, we have a second refrigerator in our basement that works perfect for sap storage, but for those who are less fortunate, it just means you will have to cook the sap down more often.

Cooking sap refers to boiling the sap until the water is evaporated, and what is left behind is dark, sweet syrup. I have found that there is no way to cook all the sap in a single day, so I cook throughout the day, allow it to cool before bed time, and place pot and all in the fridge until it is time to start again tomorrow. Cooking all the sap in a single pot I have found works better for me. I just fill my large stainless steel pot three-quarters of the way full of sap, and put on the stove on medium high and allow to boil, stirring seldom. When the sap has cooked down to half the pot, I add enough sap to bring it back to three-quarters full. I continue this process for however long it takes to cook down all the sap and the syrup left behind is a very dark brown, sweet liquid.

This process can take days to cook all of the sap, or may need to be done several times for those with a storage issue. Just leave the cooked sap in the pot and put the whole thing in the fridge until you are ready to add more sap and cook again. Once the syrup is finished cooking, heat to boiling, remove from heat and strain through cheese cloth into quart jars, place hot lids and rings on jars and hand tighten.

Jars will seal, keeping the syrup fresh. Though a tedious process, it is well worth it to taste fresh maple syrup made at home!

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