Making Maple Syrup

Making Maple Syrup has developed into a tradition on the farm.  Here at Rolling Pines Farm we find people every year want to come out and see how we tap the trees, collect the sap and then boil it down into the sweet, tasty treat that can be enjoyed on your favorite breakfast foods, used to sweeten your coffee, tea or recipes, made into candies and more.

Making Maple the Old Fashioned Way

We make our maple syrup the same way our grandparents did.  We use old fashioned stainless steel taps and galvanized buckets to collect the sap to make our syrup.

Making Maple syrup, a historic photo

We go out with our old brace and bit (that was purchased from a flea market after scouring the whole market for one in working order), a small tap setter made from a wooden block and dowel and we tap our trees.

We select medium sized trees that are straight and healthy, then drill a hole on the south or southwestern face of the tree.  The sun shines down on the trees, heats up the bark and encourages the sap to flow.  Taps can be placed on any face of the tree, but you will get more sap if you place the taps on the southern face.

Erik helps Dave tap the trees.

Making Maple – Outside Boil

After the sap has been collected it is time to start boiling.  Sap will only hold for a few days once the temperatures start to warm.  It usually takes us about a week during the high sap flow days to fill our holding tank.  Early in the season, we bury the container in a snow bank so it is cold and does not spoil.  Late in the season, we don’t have enough time for the sap to sit around.  A large galvanized or plastic trash bin (brand new, please!), washed out with a lid that latches is perfect.

After some looking and planning we devised an outdoor boiler that worked well for us without costing a ton of money.  Using cinder blocks and hotel pans we were able to start the boil.  This set up has worked well as we have scaled up our production.  Having pans like this, open to the air does not qualify for making syrup that can be sold.  The chance of contamination by rain, snow, flying birds, insects, or dogs looking to sample the syrup is high, so the USDA does not like the outdoors open boil.

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The open front allows us to feed fire from the front of the boiling apparatus.  The way the blocks are arranged in the back allows us to attach a stack to the back of the boiler.  This stack allows us to enclose the boiler in a temporary shelter.  Using the stack, we can put up a tent with closing side walls and  boil our sap without getting smoked out of our own sugar shack.

One of the biggest hassles of making the syrup is keeping enough wood on hand.  We need to harvest the trees (makes a good use of the ash trees that have been killed by the emerald ash borer), haul and split wood. For this I enlist the help of my 13 and 15 year old kids.  Added selling point, sweetness of out syrup has been cut with teen angst!

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Making Maple, Finish Indoors

After the sap has been reduced over 10 fold we filter the sap and bring it indoors and finish it on the stove.  There are several ways this can be done, all having to do with the sugar content of the syrup.  We bring our syrup up to 11° F higher than the temperature at which water boils.  This means that we will sometimes go too hot and have sugar crystals form in the jars as they cool.  Another option is to use a hydrometer or refractometer to test the density of your syrup.  (For more information and to price supplies visit Leader Evaporator.)  Once our sap has reduced down enough to have turned to syrup we filter it once again and finish with sterilized bottles.

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It takes roughly 11 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. There are ways to increase that yield, and to increase the amount of sap collected from the maple trees.  Using vacuum lines, and reverse osmosis equipment the work is greatly reduced.  For us there is a huge trade off.  Making the maple syrup has become a family tradition, something we look forward to every spring and something friends and neighbors enjoy coming to watch.  So while there are ways to lighten our workload, I think we will continue making maple syrup the old fashioned way.