What could be better than pancakes drizzled in maple syrup? I got it! Pancakes drizzled in your own home made maple syrup, from your own trees.
When we were looking for our country home we had a list. No fancy home was to be found on the list, big windows, open concept, main-flour laundry, no swamp…. and also on the list was a Maple “Sugar Bush” and “Sugar Shack” and God provided us with all my hearts desires, isn’t He great. He new I didn’t need a fancy house, just a simple home and acres of rocks and trees for my children to explore. Deer at my back window, an occasional bear too….. and of course lots Maple trees, and I got my sugar shack.
We moved into our new home in December and I spent my winter researching and dreaming about making my own Maple syrup. My dad had some wonderful connections down south in Mennonite country and two very wonderful gentlemen came all the way up here to help us plan out our sugar bush and set lines so that everything gravity fed down hill to our sugar shack. We used slab wood from a local mill (from another kind gentleman) and any soft wood in the bush that needed thinning. Those were the days, my husband was down there all day feeding the fire (a full time job) and I would lug the boys on a sled in and out (which was up hill) with his meals, and help when ever I could get someone to watch them. We’d boil all day at the shack then pour the almost finished sap into pails and carry them out on a piece of wood held between us, through knee high snow. Oh the romance of it all. In the books it talked about the syrup being ready when it “curtained”, but how was a person to know what that meant. O.K. maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know what that meant, but just in case there might be some one else like me out there I will try to explain that later on. I remember being so excited the first time it slowly dripped off the spin and then slid off the spoon in a curtain. Oh the Joy!!! It was worth it all.
This became our spring routine for next few years, until we finally made the decision to stop making syrup to sell and move our syrup making the closer to home. Now we tap the trees around our house and still get to enjoy that wonderful feeling that comes with making your own home made Maple syrup. You can do it too. This year I wanted to just tap enough trees to show a friend how to do it herself and for the first time I did it all inside on my wood cook stove. At the same time I thought I would share with you how we make our Backyard Maple syrup.
Disclaimer: Before we go on I must say that I am only sharing my experience with you and do not suggest you use the following method. Making maple syrup can cause serious burns and injury if not done right, and I take no responsibility for any damage or injury incurred, to you or your home. Do your own research and decide the right method for you. There are many aspects of making maple syrup that are safe and fun to do as a family but there are also many dangerous aspects that should only be done by a knowledgeable adult.
That being said:
Here is a list of the supplies I used:
10 metal syrup buckets
10 metal lids
a rechargeable drill
a drill bit slightly smaller than the wide end of my splines
2 – 11 x 19 x 4 restaurant hot tray pans
a wood cook-stove (but you could use other methods we have used many different methods over the years and I came across a great website with photos that you might want to check it out click here)
a plastic jars (because I’m throwing mine in the freezer this year just for the ease of things), but if you are wanting to store it for any length of time out of the freezer you will need to use sterilized canning jars and snap lids.
You will also need a filter, to filter out pieces of bark etc. and “sugar sand” this is important! Especially if you are not freezing the syrup, as the “sugar sand” will turn your nice bottle of syrup into a huge lump of Maple sugar. As I was freezing the syrup and couldn’t find my proper syrup filter, I used a thick layer of cheese clothe but alas some of the “sugar sand” still made it through.
So here it goes, first things first. Selecting your trees, they should be at least in 12″ diameter for the health of the tree. A larger tree can handle up to three taps, as I will show you later. Here I am using metal spiles, you can purchase at your local hardware store this time of year or online, and you can see the drill bit I have selected is smaller than the larger portion of the spline (it tapers). Drill in an ever so slight angle upwards and approximately 2″ deep, as you can see in the photo.
Tap the spline into the whole with a clean hard object.
Hang your buckets and attache the lids to the spiles using the metal wire. It will look something like this.
Most of the trees I tapped were big enough to have 2 buckets. A very large healthy tree could support 3 taps, please remember a tree must have a diameter of at least 12″ to be tapped.
In order for the sap to run, the temperatures at night must go below zero, and above during the day. The day I tapped the sap was already dripping into the buckets as we hung them up.
My little secret to you is go out first thing in the morning to collect your sap. The snow is hard and easy to walk on, and the best part is the water in the sap will have frozen over night. Take a bucket with a handle and something clean to chip a hole in the ice. Pour the sap out into your bucket making sure the ice doesn’t fall in. This is going to save you on the boiling time. Some years we even take that bucket and set it into the deep freezer for a couple hours to freeze a little more (not completely though) and then make another hole in the ice and pour it off again before boiling.
Years ago as I said earlier, we would boil down the sap in a sugar shack, using slab wood. The last few years my husband rigged a boiler outside in our back yard, by taking a furnace oil tank and placing it on it’s side and cutting rectangular holes in the top so that the outside edge of the 11 x 19 x 4 restaurant hot tray pans rested on the oil tank, leaving the pan set in and hanging over an open fire, again we used slab wood to feed the fire (alas I think all my photos of this are on an old dead computer). Meanwhile my neighbor was using her wood cookstove to slowly evaporate hers and heating her house at the same time. No standing out in the rain feeding a fire. I thought but wouldn’t the house get humid and sticky? Well this year since I was just boiling syrup for ourselves I thought I would try it. I found it worked wonderfully, it was’t boiling rapidly, just slowly evaporating, so no sticky humid mess. 10 buckets got me about 2 full pans (sometimes a little more in an extra pot) which I would set on the wood cook stove in the morning and just leave them there until I could pour the 2nd pan into 1st pan, then that pan would sit over night on the cool side of the stove (I am not recommending you leave sap on your wood cook stove over night, I know my stove and how much it will evaporate over night) and be ready to evaporate some more the next day .
I would watch it closely now because I knew it was getting close (for me it would be about 1/3 to a 1/4 full). At this point it can foam and boil over easily, so keep a little oil handy in case it starts to boil over you just need a drop or two to help keep it from boiling over and this is much better than getting burned trying to remove a hot pan in a hurry.
When you can dip a spoon or ladle in and slowly pour it off, and the drips hang onto the spoon, sorta forming a curtain, it’s ready. If you have a candy thermometer, the proper temperature is 7 degrees F above the boiling temperature of water, which for us at about 1300 ft (give or take a foot or two) is 216 F. So you will have to check the boiling point of water in your location first to use this method.
Now it’s time to filter. I couldn’t find my proper felt filter, so I used cheese clothe folded thick, it filtered out the bark etc., but it still let some “sugar sand” through.
Some people say a clean t-shirt or pillowcase, but I can’t vouch for whether or not they completely remove the sugar, “Sugar sand” will turn the syrup into a hard sugar eventually, but if you plan on making Maple sugar or candy with it then a little sugar sand is not going to hurt anyway.
If you plan on canning your syrup then you will want to completely remove all sugar, in this case, you can purchase a felt filter at farm or hardware stores, or online. We just removed most of the sugar with the cheese clothe because we are going to make some more maple candy and put the rest of it in the freezer.
Here is a photo of some of the yummy things we made with our home made maple syrup.