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Back Yard Sugar’in

By Mel

November 11, 2007

Revised July 3, 2014

A beautiful finished jar of maple syrup

The art of making sugar from Maple sap came from the Indians and was taught to the French and English settlers. Maple trees only grow in the North American continent and therefore this process is special and specific only to North America.

It takes between 35 to 65 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Different trees have different levels of sugar content. The Sugar maple has the highest with 3% sugar content. Other maples such as the Red and silver maples and the Box elder can also produce sap, but sugar content is much lower (1%) and flavor is not as desirable.

Be sure to plan how much sap you want to collect, have the number of spiles, (taps for trees) ready and clean before you begin the season. Consider using empty and clean milk jugs. They are translucent making it easy to see if the jug is ready to be emptied. Check your trees at least twice each day, when the sap begins to flow, it will flow quickly. On cold days be careful not to let the sap freeze. Sap can also spoil, so keep it cool and boil it down soon after collecting.

The sugar’in season starts when the nights are freezing and the days warm above freezing in the late winter to early spring. It is a good idea to not tap all your trees too early, tap holes can dry out and never drill a hole when the temperature is below 25F or the wood may split. So when the time is close, drill one hole and when it starts to flow, drill the remaining.

Look for trees with good southern sun exposure and a large leaf canopy. Choose sugar maples at least 10” in diameter. A rule of thumb is one tap hole for 10 – 14” diameter trees, two tap holes for 15-19”, three tap holes for 20-24” diameter trees and up to four for trees larger than 25”.

Drill a 7/16” diameter tap holes on the southeast, south or southwest sides, the sun warms the south side of the tree each day. Choose locations above large roots or below large limbs if possible, since these locations have the most sap flow. The depth of the tap hole should be into solid wood, between 1 ½” to 2 ½” deep, sloping slightly upward into the tree, so sap will flow out. If you have closed spiles, where the sap cannot flow out the top then drill slightly downward into the tree so the tap will be less likely to dry out and stop giving sap.

Hang buckets about 4 feet off the ground, and easily accessible. Remember, that you have to empty the buckets and you don’t want to spill the precious sap. With our setup, we have empty 1-gallon milk jugs with a tube coming from the closed spile and going into a hole in the cap. With this setup the sap is inside, so there should be less debris and bugs then with open buckets.


Tap and spile, with milk jug for collecting sap

The sap will boil at around 210F at our elevation; it will take about 16 hours to boil down 30 gallons of sap on the fire. Although it is not recommended to boil over an open fire, unless you have a special setup as ash will fall into the syrup and alter the flavor. Sap becomes syrup at approximately 7F above the boiling point of water or 66.7% sugar density. As the water evaporates the sap will boil with smaller bubbles, the syrup should not be boiled above 217F. A candy thermometer may be good to monitor the last few hours of boiling. The syrup should be filtered to remove the “sugar sand” or organic concentrates. The syrup should be stored in canning jars in the cool location.

Maple Cream

Heat syrup to 22 to 24F above boiling point, then cool rapidly to 50F or lower. Then return it to room temperature and stir continuously until it looses its shiny appearance.

Maple candies

Heat syrup to 32 to 34F above boiling point, then allow to cool to approximately 200F but not less than 160F, then stir somewhat and pack into molds.

Maple Taffy

Heat syrup to 35 to 40F above boiling. Then immediately pour, without stirring, onto snow or ice. Wait a couple of minutes, and then twirl onto stick.

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