Our Backyard Maple Syrup Operation!
Our second season of maple syrup production has once again come to a close and left our freezer with an abundance of bottles filled with liquid gold! Some of you might remember my post from last year called "Our very own Maple Syrup...I hope!" when I optimistically talked about making our very first batch!
My instagram friend Loni, is from North Dakota and she had requested that I give her a run down on how we make our syrup....so, here are a few photos from this year's big backyard production!
Last year, we tapped about 15 trees and we started around the second week in March...this year, we had a warm spell around the third week of February and I told James that it felt like tree tappin' time but he scoffed and said "too early"...since I always have to be right, we started to put the taps in and low and behold we got 140 gallons in 3 days!! At the risk of sounding arrogant, I may have said "I told ya so!" a few times!!
After the initial sap flow, things started to cool off and the sap temporarily stopped running but resumed with a vengeance!
This photo is from last season when Isabel was hard at work gathering sap and this year was no different...she hustled her little buns around helping after school and on the weekends doing her part to put homemade syrup on the table!
"Sugaring off" (or boiling down sap) is usually done on the weekends as we both work full time, but this year, we had so much that we had to take the odd day off here and there just to catch up. We store our sap in 4 gallon pails in the garage where it will keep cool or often freeze depending on the weather. Maple sap needs to be kept cool and will turn cloudy and spoil just like milk...this is why the season seems so rushed in order to get our precious sap boiled down into rich golden syrup!
First thing in the morning, we build a fire, stoking it with hardwood logs in order to keep it burning quite hot. We bought a new evaporator pan this year and man, did it ever cut down on time spent around the fire! Since the pan is very large but shallow, it allows us to keep the sap at a rolling boil as we add more to it throughout the day. On an average day (10 hours) of boiling, providing that the wind is favourable, we can usually get around 60 gallons of sap boiled, which will produce 1&1/2 gallons of syrup!
This is what's left of our fire wood...we used a big pile of good, dry hardwood to achieve that smoky maple flavour in our syrup! Even though our backyard operation is small compared to a lot of the producers around, you can still scale it down even more. My friend Brian, taps just 1 tree at his house, freezes the sap until he has enough and boils it down in a pot on his stove, yielding just enough for his family!
Once the sap is boiled down to a golden bubbling syrup, we pour it into a pot, bring it into the kitchen and finish it on the stove. You can finish it on the fire, but since we are terrified of burning it, we find it safer to do it this way!
By "finishing" it, I mean when the temperature on a thermometer reads 219 degrees, the syrup is finished. This syrup is not quite ready here as it reads 217 degrees. Once the liquid reaches 215 degrees, it seems to take forever to reach 219, but it will and then you are ready to strain your syrup through a clean piece of cotton or you can purchase certain filters for this task.
After all of the syrup is strained to catch bits of ash and debris, I pour it into mason jars leaving about an inch and a half head space and store the jars in the freezer. When maple syrup has had all of the water evaporated out of it (219 degrees, or 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, which is 212 degrees) it will not freeze, it will just get really thick. I leave the head space for expansion when in the freezer just in case I get impatient and leave some water in the finished product! (Alternately, you can pour hot syrup into jars and seal)
There are various colours of our syrup...this photo was taken last year and the lightest stuff was from the earliest part of the season...this year, the earliest collection, yielded a much darker syrup! I'm stumped as to why but all I know is that it all tastes delicious!
...and this is why all of those laborious hours of sap collection, hauling and splitting wood and long, eye burning days over an open fire are worth every rewarding minute!! Maple syrup straight from our own property is just heavenly when served over pancakes, french toast, ice cream or drizzled over roasted vegetables, salmon or even granola and porridge...and I will even confess that I enjoy a nip or two straight out of the jar!
* to get an accurate read of the sugar content in your syrup, you can use a hydrometer.