We canned our last pint of maple syrup yesterday. All told, between the first day we tapped and the final screw of the canning lid, the syrup season lasted three weeks.As most of you are experiencing, spring showed up very early this year. Here in Wisconsin, the sap run began in late February, a full ten days earlier than last year. As novice sugarers, we were solidly caught off guard. It took us a week to get our supplies organized and secure a boiling apparatus, missing out on a solid portion of the drip-drip-drips running up the trees.
When we finally got our act together, the temps were reaching record highs in our area and the sap we’d collected was in danger of spoiling. This was not an issue we’d dealt with last year as the cool March temperatures had kept relatively steady. Because of this, we had not researched how to keep buckets of sap stored in warm temperatures. It was only after a full day of near 70 F that I read in our maple syrup handbook how sap should be treated like fresh milk. Fresh milk!? Our buckets were sitting outside in a warm microclimate, waiting in a neat little line to be added to our boiling trays! Blast!
As quickly as we could, we moved them into the cool of our breezeway but we did end up losing a few buckets to spoilage due to our negligence.
Last year, we detailed all the things we’d learned from the previous year and how to make a successful syruping season. The things we learned this year were mainly how every season is incredibly different and there’s no calendar page that’s going to signal the start of the sap run. In fact, I just opened our last jar of maple syrup from last year and the date on the can was April 4th! This means we were boiling down and canning for another two weeks last year! I can’t believe how fast this year went.
But as I look around our yard, all the snow is gone. The robins, geese and sandhill cranes bounce about our fields. The grass is green everywhere and the rains are a’pouring every day. Our March looks like last year’s April. I guess I should have paid more attention to the natural details all around me.
Another new item from last year is the fact that we were able to borrow a friend’s homemade sap boiler. It is a 55 gallon drum with a smokestack added to one end and door on the other. On the top, two openings have been cut to fit standard hotel boiler pans. The system is simple but effective; the firebox is protected inside the drum and the heat transfers to the sap-filled pans on top. The smoke goes out the smoke stack and any gaps are closed up with tin foil. After a while, the fire is burning cleanly enough to remove the tall chimney and just allow the heat to do its work.
Later, we filter the nearly finished syrup and bring it inside to finish it on the stove.
This year, we canned just under 3 gallons of syrup. Considering we lost a week of sap in the beginning and we lost about fifteen gallons of sap to spoilage, the harvest was pretty good. The ratio has been about one quart of syrup from each five gallon bucket of sap.
Now, it’s time to clean up our work areas from the sticky sweet mess. Maybe next year, we’ll finally have this season figured out!
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