From Sap To Syrup ~ The Garden of Eating - a sinfully good blog about food

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

From Sap To Syrup

I'm happy to report that our little experiment in backyard alchemy was a success! After many hours of boiling down sap over an open fire, we are now the proud owners of a little less than a quart of beautiful, amber maple syrup.

Liquid amber - a quart jar of homemade maple syrup by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

I'm probably biased by all the hours we put into it, but I could swear the flavor is superior to other maple syrups I've had -- I taste both butter and vanilla amidst the sweetness and the maple.

Below is a recap of our process in pictures (seeing as they're worth a thousand words and all.) And here's a link to an easy-to-follow how-to that walks you through the process and a very detailed FAQ from Cornell in case you'd like to try maple sugaring on your own next year. 

Turning Sap Into Syrup

We began by tapping eight sugar maples at my in-laws' house.
Maples tapped by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
Using an 1/2" bit, Rahm drilled a small hole about 4 inches deep into the trunk of each tree roughly 4 1/2 feet above the ground, then pushed the metal stiles in with a few gentle blows of a hammer. The sap began to flow right away.
Maple sap dripping out of the stile by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
We used a mix of yogurt containers and milk jugs to catch the sap.
Yogurt container to catch the sap by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
Milk jugs are definitely a better choice than yogurt containers since they hold a lot more sap and are also easier to hang and empty.
Attaching the milk jug to catch the sap by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
We discovered that the sap, itself, is absolutely delicious - cold and sweet with a mild maple flavor. We ended up drinking it straight out of the tree.
Attaching the milk jug to catch the sap by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
Our first attempt at making syrup was conducted indoors which is not recommended, particularly if you have wallpaper in your house, as the steam will peel it right off the walls! Due to our inexperience and lack of candy thermometer, we ended up boiling our five gallons of  sap just a tad too long and it solidified in the jar as it cooled.
Maple Sugar by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating Blog, copyright 2011
Luckily for us, this maple sugar is an incredible treat. We've been using to sweeten our tea and coffee (not surprisingly, it imparts a lovely maple flavor) and as a topping on vanilla and chocolate ice cream -- soooooo good!
Maple Sugar by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating Blog, copyright 2011
But Rahm really wanted to make SYRUP so we embarked on a second attempt using an open fire and with a lot more sap on hand to play around with.
Boiling down the sap over an outdoor fire by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
We boiled the sap down in our big enameled canning pot and a couple of much smaller camping pots.
Boiling down the sap over an outdoor fire by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
We invited some friends over to keep us company. Will and his friend, Rio, ate Irish soda bread, played with  racecars and stomped around in the little stream that runs next to our house. Unfortunately, they moved too quickly for me to get a good photo of them together so this one is just little Will picking the raisins out of his bread.
Will picking the ray-ray (raisins) out of his piece of sweet Irish soda bread by Eve Fox, The Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
Throughout the day, Rahm added more sap to the pot to replace the liquid as it boiled off.
Rahm adds more sap to the pot by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
After night fell, we brought the greatly reduced sap inside to finish it off on the stove top. I put my new candy thermometer to use to ensure that we did not boil too long this time around. When you make syrup, you shoot to catch it at the point when it boils at 7 degrees above the temperature at which water boils (which is somewhere between 200 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the altitude.)
Finishing the syrup on the stove top by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
The final step was to strain the syrup through cloth (flannel is recommended if you have it) to remove any wood particles, bark, dirt, fiber, etc.
Straining the hot syrup through cloth by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011
The fruits of our labor -- slightly less than a quart of delicious, homemade maple syrup! Beautiful, no?
Liquid amber - a quart jar of homemade maple syrup by Eve Fox, Garden of Eating blog, copyright 2011

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6 comments:

Jess said...

The fruits of your labor. Beautiful!

Alyson said...

I love it! One of my friends makes his own syrup too and it's the most deliciously smokey stuff. Makes me wish for maple trees of my own.

Eve Fox said...

Thanks, guys! I do feel kind of like a proud parent about it.

and you're right, Alyson - it is deliciously smokey!

NowCounseling said...

Holy awesome, rustic, sweetness! Next year I'll come back for harvest time and we will make an entire operation. Maybe we will get 5 quarts if we put all of our time and energy into it.

Northern Lights said...

Eve, Hope you are making your syrup again this year! I am using 5/8" clear, plastic hose tubing on the spouts this year, and they drain (some trees have 3 spouts) into 1 5 gallon bucket (hole in lid) that is on the ground! Have 18 trees this year, so hoping to make enough to send out as gifts this year!

Have fun!
Kate

cgbnh said...

I have been making my own backyard maple syrup here in NH for almost 25 years and it is one of winter’s true pleasures. I produce from 2 to 5 gallons that we use in the kitchen and as gifts.

You can speed up the boiling process by first freezing your sap over night and concentrating the sugar content of the sap. Take advantage of the fact that sugar will lower the freezing point and separate the sap from the water. I put a 5 gallon plastic bucket of sap into our chest freezer for 12 to 18 hours and allow a shell of ice to form, after which I chop two holes in the top of the ice and pour out the concentrate and then begin the boil off. Allow your very large ice cube to melt in the bucket for an hour or two at room temperature and then pour off the remaining concentrate.

The freezing process will remove up to half of the water content of the sap and save boiling time and fuel. And the ice makes interesting - though temporary - structures on the lawn.

If you have a wood, pellet or other stove for heat, try putting the sap in a stainless steel pot on top of the stove and use this as a ‘free’ heat source. (Never use aluminum or cast iron to boil sap as it will discolor and add a metal taste to the finished syrup.) The heat will pass through the sap and evaporate the water. When it is reduced by 75% of so, finish the process on your kitchen range for best control. Unless your wood stove is very hot this will take considerably longer but it will also humidify the area without the risk of overdoing the moisture level in the air.