Friday, February 19, 2010

Making Maple Syrup


- Drill (electric or hand-powered)           - Fire, stove, or other heat source
- 7/16” drill bit                                       - Large pot or kettle
- Spile w/                                               - Thermometer
- Hammer                                              - Cheesecloth or other fine filtering medium
- Bucket or collection container


When to Tap: Approximately the end of February, when temperatures are above freezing during the day and below freezing at night.

How to Tap: Find a suitable sugar maple tree with a diameter of at least 12 inches. Using the drill and 7/16” drill bit, make a hole approximately 3 inches deep into the tree at a slight upward angle. Be sure shavings are out of the hole before driving in the spile. Drive the spile (with a hook) gently into the hole with a few firm taps with the hammer. Be careful not to hit so hard as to deform or damage the spile. Hang the bucket or other suitable collection container from the spile’s hook to begin collecting sap.

Number of Taps and Trees: A good rule is no tree less than 12 inches in diameter and one tap for every 12 inches thereafter. For example, a 24 inch-wide tree may support two spiles, but this depends on the health and vitality of the tree. When in doubt, use only one spile per tree. In an average year, one tree may produce 10-15 gallons of sap. This will translate to about 1 quart of syrup. The amount of syrup you would like to make and the number of suitable sugar maples on your property will ultimately determine how much syrup you will actually produce.

Gathering Sap: Sap must be collected daily when it is running, and may be stored up to a week in a cool, dark container. If the sap appears cloudy in your buckets or storage vessel, it has spoiled and must be discarded.
Evaporating: It takes a lot of boiling to convert the sap into syrup. You will need a large pot or kettle to boil as much sap as possible. Add sap to the pot until all the sap in your storage vessel is gone. The bulk of the evaporating should be done outdoors or in an extremely well ventilated area since the boiling sap will release a large volume of steam. Remember: 1 gallon of syrup is produced by removing 39 gallons of water from the original volume of 40 gallons of sap!

Creating Syrup: Continue to boil the sap until it reaches a temperature of 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. In our area of NY that’s 219 degrees F. This is best done indoors on the stove so the sap/syrup can be monitored closely. The overall volume of the liquid is much less than when you started, so a heavy stockpot and a digital or candy thermometer work well for this finishing step.

Strain and Store: Maple syrup has a natural grittiness that should be filtered out. It is created by naturally occurring minerals present in the sap that solidify and fall out of the sap solution during the boiling process. Strain your syrup through several layers of cheesecloth while the syrup is still hot. Any remaining particles will settle to the bottom of your storage jars. Your syrup will store best in glass jars in the refrigerator.

For more information about making maple syrup, join an upcoming sugaring program at Westmorland Sanctuary on Feb 21, Feb 27, March 7, or March 13.  Click here to get program times and details from our website.

-Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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