Each year the winter months pass quickly. There are so many things to catch up on, so many projects that get postponed when the rush of outdoor work takes priority. And in our cozy little cabin with plenty of firewood and the woodstove crackling merrily, the winter passes and we barely even notice how cold it gets outside!
Still, it’s fun to feel the change in the season, when the nights are still below freezing, but the sunny days soar up into the 50s. When windows begin to open and birds begin to sing. And that’s when you realize that maple syrup season, the very earliest prelude to spring, has begun!
Our property is a nice old mixed forest, with lots of maples and birches scattered among the conifers. They are all red maples instead of sugar maples, but for our family’s syrup-making purposes, they work just great!
This year, we tapped 34 trees. We use a simple homemade system that Joe designed to make it quick and easy to set up and collect.
Sap runs are a family affair. We all walk out together and make our way around tree-by-tree. The kids are in charge of status updates (“3’s got a bunch! 4’s empty!”) and prep (opening the lid). On a day when the sap is really running, you can actually watch it rise in the tube. Amazing to think that this is the tree’s delivery system pulling water from the ground and distributing it all the way out to the branch-tips!
Joe transfers the sap into our collection gallons. I close the lids. The kids and I shuttle full gallons back to the house and empty them through cheesecloth into the pot to boil down.
Maple sap is really incredibly beautiful when you take a moment to look at it. It’s so smooth and clear…
It’s mostly water, of course, but it’s full of all kinds of wonderful micronutrients that allow the tree to make the incredible transformation from bare wood to blossom-and-leaf…
And all of this is part of an annual illustration of God’s eternal truths. The living water of sap awakens the trees from their winter slumber into the new life of spring!
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:4, KJV)
It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, so there’s a lot of evaporation to be done. To keep up with the increased number of trees this year, we moved our boiling over to an outdoor propane stove. It’s the same stove that we use to reduce the lye for our Old-fashioned Soft Soap, so it’s really coming in handy.
The smell of maple syrup-making is amazing! When the steam really gets going, you can put your face over the pot and take a deep breath for a cotton-candy spa-facial!
When it gets low, we transfer it into a small pot on our woodstove and fill the whole house with the smell of syrup. We do our best to keep a close eye on it, but we always have a lot of things going on at once, and it’s not unusual for us to end up with some maple-sugar and maple-rock-candy, too.
We don’t yet have a hydrometer, so we still decide when the syrup is done simply by looking and tasting. This is fine for home use, but of course there are a lot more precise testing and measurement requirements for anything that you buy in a store!
One thing that totally caught us by surprise is that the sap is so delicious straight from the tree! We have this one really large maple right at the beginning of our driveway which we call the Welcome Maple. It’s huge with a wide canopy and turns a deep purplish-red in the fall. And the sap is so sweet that we don’t make syrup out of it at all ~ we just gather around the table and enjoy it straight from the tree!
Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?(John 4:10-12, KJV)
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.(John 4:13-14, KJV)
Turns out, there is nothing so refreshing as pure sap in the early spring!
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord…(Acts 3:19, KJV)
by Sydney Michalski