Maple Syrup

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!

the first drip of spring - maple sap runs from a metal tap
The first drops of maple sap from newly-tapped trees always gives you the feeling that spring is underway!

Our property is a nice old mixed forest, with lots of maples and birches scattered among the conifers. As far as we can tell, 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 54 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!

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season…(Psalm 1:3, KJV)

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…

a stream of maple sap pours in bright sunshine with a birch in the background
a stream of maple sap pours in bright sunshine with a birch in the background
a stream of maple sap pours in bright sunshine with a birch in the background

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, so there’s a lot of evaporation to be done. It seems like everyone knows someone who tried it for the first time in their kitchen and it steamed so much that it peeled the wallpaper off their walls! We do our boiling on an outdoor propane stove. It’s the same stove that we use to reduce the lye for our Old-fashioned Soft Soap, so it really comes 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 smaller pot to finish in the house. You get to enjoy some really beautiful bubbles and surface crystals as the syrup is slowly thickening.

golden maple syrup forms small bubbles under the surface as it boils down
a close-up of golden bubbles formed on maple syrup

We keep an eye on the temperature, and pull it off the stove when it reaches 219°. Except, every now and then, we forget about it and end up with maple-sugar instead.

One thing that totally caught us by surprise the first time we harvested sap is that it’s 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 drink it!

a glass bottle filled with cold maple sap sits in a sunny window
a glass bottle filled with cold maple sap sits in a sunny window

Turns out, there is nothing so refreshing as pure sap in the early spring!

by Sydney Michalski

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