We just finished up our 3rd batch of syrup, and it seems that the maple tapping season is at its end. For the record we put 6 taps into 5 trees – 2 sugar maple and 3 red maple. We started with 3 buckets on March 12. It didn’t really start dripping until a week later, so we had time to increase our operation to 6 buckets. Our final haul was April 15 and it was one of our biggest. The next day, the buckets were virtually dry. I’d guess we collected approximately 60 gallons of sap over the course of a month. We cooked it down in 3 batches, in a 20 gallon pot, outdoors on a propane turkey-fryer setup. Then we finished it indoors in a 4 gallon stock pot on our gas stove. The final product was 15 pints of syrup – which probably would have been a complete 2 gallons if we weren’t tasting it so much… but it’s just insanely delicious stuff.
Tapping trees is a labor of love! First, one must identify the appropriate tree. Then one can drill a special hole and hang a bucket to collect the distinctly pure tasting water that drips out of the tree’s wound. The conditions need to be just right for the sap to flow, occurring usually on sunny days when snow is still on the ground, with daytime temps in the 40s, and nighttime lows in the 20s.
I guess it makes sense that the yellow-bellied sapsucker is also a sign of good conditions. I was delighted to see this one tapping away on one of our sugar maples.
We are fortunate to have two sugar maples right behind our house. The convenience is great, but collecting sap from trees in a remote area can be an enjoyable chore. Four of our taps were in red maples on our friend’s property that was accessible only by ski or snowshoe for a majority of the tapping season. Maple trees are not super prevalent in this part of Michigan so we had to put in the extra effort to reap the benefits of additional trees, and it was most definitely worth it. In each bucket we would find between one tablespoon and two gallons of sap each day or every few days. We kept a close eye on the weather to know when the buckets would be filling up. The rate at which the sap flows is definitely not constant. The trees will heal themselves after we remove the metal spiles.
For each batch, cooking down the sap into syrup was a two day job for us. It took several hours for the liquid to decrease in volume significantly. Then we brought it indoors and continued boiling until the sap became syrup at approximately 7.5 degrees F above the boiling point of water (adjusted for elevation and pressure.) Our three batches resulted in a slightly different flavors and slightly different colors. The first two were on the lighter side with strong notes of Vanilla, while the third batch was much darker with a deeper Butterscotch flavor. We’re calling our stuff Jackpine Savage Syrup, in reference to our most prevalent tree, the Jack pine, and the Up North lifestyle that we love.