For the past couple of years, I have been blessed to try my hand at making Maple syrup. We have several Maple trees on the property, and some of them are quite large. Due to supplies and unpreparedness, I usually run about 10 taps. This year I was able to upgrade to 13 taps. I love using the sap bags, but found the holders to be in short supply this year. Thus I have 12 bags and one bucket.
Last year, I had some good success using electric burners in my garage to cook down the sap. I bought several pots and just left them running for hours on end. I don't really know what that did to the electric bill, but I know it made a great humid environment in my garage. Perfect for those mid-winter sinuses!
Of course, using regular kitchen pots is incredible inefficient for boiling sap. Surface area is so crucial to quickly evaporating the water out of the sap. I had explored last year the concept of building a concrete block boiler using buffet dishes as the vessels for holding the sap. This year, I finally did it!
I started with the buffet dishes. These I bought from Amazon, and they are definitely the most expensive part of the project - coming in around $30 apiece. The block is cheap, which is good because I expect to have to replace one from time to time. The whole design really centers around the metal pans.
I built it up first in the garage, and brought it outside for the first firing - with water in the pans. You don't want to fire the pans dry or the metal will severely distort!
The first firing led me to refine the design a little bit around the chimney. I needed to close it up so less smoke came out the un-cemented cracks and more went up the chimney. I angled the lower support block to make a triangle that sits up inside the straight sides. This leaves a gap for the smoke to go up the chimney, but prevents smoke from slipping out the back. Once the design is perfect, I will create a level space and mortar the whole thing together for permanent use - with a stainless steel griddle top, one could even use it for barbecues!
Since these photos were taken, I've added a layer of block to the front and moved the top blocks slightly to close some gaps in the back. This also give some space between the fire and my plywood cover to prevent those catching on fire.
I have cooked, roughly, 40 gallons of sap so far. My trees tend to be a little slow and most of this has come from one tree by the house! But, as I look out the window this morning I can see more on the way. This new boiler is so efficient; I can boil roughly 20 gallons of sap to near-syrup level in four hours. In the old way it would have taken days.
I find myself now with a glut of time waiting for more sap, instead of a glut of sap and not enough time - which is a refreshing problem to have! I'll post again with some of the final results soon. My next hurdle is to fine more effective filters in order to produce a more refined looking syrup.