What a sap..
Birds are chirping. Geese are honking as they fly north. Baby animals arrive.
All of these things means spring is nearing... Thank goodness!!
We are running out of maple syrup [gasp] Delicious, ooey, gooey, sticky maple syrup. The kind that you lick your plate clean after the stack of pancakes is devoured.
So how do you make maple syrup?
It's not the corn syrup, maple flavored, copy cat stuff you buy at the store. Although you can find pure maple syrup there also, you just don't know how far it's traveled. I don't really know of any places in Illinois beside small "homesteaders" like us. Most of that pure syrup comes from Vermont or New Hampshire, or something like that.
So anyway, you find maple trees. You may have a few in your yard. The best ones are Sugar Maples, hence the name.
Drill a small hole angling upward, so that the gravity of the sap will be flowing downward (major science lesson right there in case you missed it.) Then there are special "taps" (called spiles) that are tapped into that hole you just drilled. That's where the term "tapping the trees" comes from.
I know, I know.. "Wow, Captain Obvious! You've taught me absolutely NOTHING so far. Thanks!"
So I'll make it a little more interesting. It's not as easy as sneaking to your neighbor's yard & hanging a bucket from their Maple tree. The temperatures make the sap flow. Freezing temps at night, above freezing during the day. Sunshine most definitely helps. Which we've had none of for days, only rain.
After the tap is in the tree, if the temps, time of year, sign of the moon is right, the sap will start dripping immediately. The sap collecting bucket is hung on the tap whether there is sap flow or not. It will start.
Sap looks and tastes just like water. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Yes, you read that right, a 40:1 ratio! That's a lot of boiling.
We are not a big commercial "sapper". So we just use the bucket & woodburner method to make syrup. In the other states that make hundreds of gallons of syrup they have all their trees connected with tubes that run down hill and all their sap is collected into a barrel or holding tank of some sort. Then boiled down in a commercial evaporator.
Here's what we have built to evaporate the sap. It's a 55 gallon metal drum with the proper openings cut out for the evaporator pan, door, & chimney. We burn wood from the dead trees that we cut up. The pan is removable for cleaning and pouring out the boiled down sap. When it gets closer to becoming syrup, the sap is brought in the house to be boiled the rest of the way down. It has to reach a temperature of about 219 degrees, but mostly we go by sight. If it looks like syrup dripping off a spoon, then it's syrup.
After it magically becomes syrup it is strained through a very thick felt filter into glass mason jars, then sealed. No need to refrigerate until after you open. But once you taste it there probably won't be anything left in the jar to refrigerate. Happy Sapping!