Backyard Sugaring, A Vermont Tradition

Maple Syrup Making 101
Weathersfield VT
Spring 2011
By Nancy Nutile-McMenemy
Every spring the good folks of Vermont, most with severe cabin fever, hang out all kinds of buckets to collect the sweet sap that runs through the maple trees around the state. These are the same trees that provide such amazing color during Fall Foliage, but in the spring before the buds or leaves, it's the sap that provides joy to the people of Vermont and beyond. "Liquid Gold" many call it and at today's prices it surely is liquid gold!

So what is this tradition all about...after a long winter, especially a long one like the winter of 2010-2011, folks start looking for signs of spring. When daytime temperatures start reaching into the upper 30s F it's time to tap the trees! Sap runs best with over night temperatures in the 20s F and day time temperatures in the 40s F.

To tap the trees, you'll need a 1/16 drill bit, taps and a hammer and some sort of collection bucket. We use old orange juice containers (reuse then recycle!) Drill a small hole, we try for south facing parts of the Maple trees. Tap in the tap, attach some tubing and hang your bucket! We run eight taps in seven trees.
Check your buckets for the sap running; we collect for a couple of weeks storing the sap in a collection container buried in snow to keep the sap cold; we skim the ice out every morning to help remove some of the water from the sap (more on this later).
When you've collected a lot of sap, say 20-40 gallons, it's time to boil. Sap is mostly water and to get to the good stuff, the syrup, you need to remove all that water. Get yourself an evaporating pan, a few cinder blocks or in my case big thick logs and start a fire!

Once the sap starts to boil, take it's temperature. Sounds silly but water and sap have boiling temperatures that differ with elevation above sea level. In the end you want the temperature of the boiled sap about 7 degrees higher than when it first started boiling. So if you are at sea level, which we aren't-we're about 1200 above, it should start to boil about 212 F therefore your end temperature should be about 219 F.

The faster you boil off the water, the higher the grade syrup you will end up with. One would think that to get a big fire roaring use big logs, well I've found small stuff burns hotter and faster speeding up the boiling process.

When the level of fluid in the evaporator pan starts getting low, it's best to finish the boil inside on the stove-top.

Watch the temperature carefully, if it starts to look like a boil over is going to happen add a pat of butter and the boil over threat will disappear. When the temperature reaches 219 F sea level (217 F for our elevation) you are DONE!!

I pour the syrup through a tea strainer lined with gauze to remove any outdoor debris stuff-twigs, ash, bugs etc. and store in mason jars or other freezer safe container. Or reuse your store bought maple syrup containers that have been rinsed/washed out really well.
Keep unopened containers in a cool, dry place. Because pure maple syrup contains no preservatives, be sure to refrigerate it once opened. If you're looking to stock up during syrup season, the freezer is ideal for long-term storage, as pure maple syrup will not freeze (the sugar content is so high it will not freeze!)
A Few Sweet facts:
  • It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
  • Early settlers learned maple harvesting from Native Americans 400 years ago.
  • It is possible for a maple farmer to tap the same tree his ancestors tapped 200 years ago.
  • 1 tap hole gives 10 gallons of sap in an average year.
  • 3 - 4 maple trees are needed to make one gallon of pure maple syrup.

Nutrition Facts:
Potassium and calcium make up most of this mineral content, but maple syrup also contains nutritionally significant amounts of zinc and manganese.

Maple syrup contains trace amounts of amino acids, which may contribute to the "buddy" flavor of syrup produced late in the season, as the amino acid content of sap increases at this time.

Additionally, maple syrup contains a wide variety of volatile organic compounds, including vanillin, hydroxybutanone, and propionaldehyde.

Now it's time to enjoy the fruits, or in this case, the syrup of your labor!!

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