I have talked for a couple of years about trying to make Maple syrup. We have five beautiful Maples close around the house and while I don’t know the exact varieties, I wanted to give it a try. As a child my family occassionally tried to make some, although the flavor was never quite what I was after.
I did some research and found out that Sugar Maples (obviously) and Red Maples provide the best quality sap, while other varieties will not be quite as good, but still viable alternatives.
I’m fussy, so I tried to get a good idea of what varieties we have here – and found what I think are Red Maples to tap. We have several Silver Maples, but the sap from those isn’t so good, and since I was not after large quantities I opted against tapping those trees.
I went to the local Tractor Supply to pick up several taps, a skimmer, some bags, and bag holders. The bag concept seemed like a neat idea, but in reality I felt it didn’t work out well. Some of the bags leaked, and occasionally they would slide out of the holder and spill the precious sap all over the ground. Next year, I will use buckets. I’m sure there is a good reason the professionals in our area use buckets or tubing as opposed to bags.
I had a two gallon bucket for fermenting handy, but quickly discovered I would need some more storage, so I ordered the same bucket in the six gallon size.
I seasoned a Dutch oven, and used a Lodge campfire tripod to suspend it to cook the sap down over a fire. I used mostly Walnut firewood. I can almost think I taste a little of that in the sap, but it could be my imagination.
There is a LOT of cooking required to turn sap into syrup! I was not too fussy with the process, and it certainly can be done more efficiently with low, flat pans as opposed to a deep Dutch oven.
For all that, six gallons of sap cooked down to about 2 cups of syrup. This was the BEST TASTING SYRUP I HAVE EVER HAD. Others who tried it agreed to its merit.
The trick in the final cookdown is to get the temperature correct: 7 degrees Fahrenheit above boiling: 219 degrees F, or 104 degrees C. My thermometer reads more easily on the Celsius scale, so I aimed for that. Too high – and you’ll have Maple candy. Too low and the sryup will be watery and spoil more quickly.
I have to say, the syrup was thicker than other store-bought natural Maple syrup – which I often find too runny. The flavor was strong, but good.