It’s always exciting to have your trees produce for you, and with a couple of maples in the yard, your pancakes can be complemented with some homemade syrup. It might sound difficult, to buy mature trees then actually use them to produce syrup, but it’s far easier than it sounds.
Maple syrup is a classic favorite at breakfast tables everywhere. English chemist Robert Boyle said it best in 1663 when he wrote “There is in some parts of New England a kind of tree whose juice that weeps out its incision, if it is permitted slowly to exhale away the superfluous moisture, doth congeal into a sweet and saccharin substance and the like was confirmed to me by the agent of the great and populace colony of Massachusetts.”
Well, move over New England. It’s time for Chicago to make some syrup!
The first (and most important) step to creating syrup is to have maple trees in your yard. We highly recommend against tapping someone else’s maple. After having maple trees, it is important to understand the process of sap production.
Many factors affect sap production (which is the base of syrup):
Seasonal Differences. In the late summer and autumn, maple trees begin to stop growing. It’s best to buy mature trees before they completely stop growing, because that’s when the fun begins. As the plant’s temperature sinks below 40 degrees, the tree stores starches and almost completely stops growing. When the wood hits about 40 degrees, enzymes in the tree turn its starches into sugar, mostly sucrose. As it rises toward 45 degrees, the opposite occurs but that’s when sap flow begins, which is helpful for, well, collecting sap.
Time of Day. Mornings tend to yield higher sucrose content than evenings.
Size of Tree. Your maple tree must be at least 10 inches in diameter and 4.5 feet above ground. The following ratio should be followed for taps.
10″ — 20″ diameter: One tap.
20″ — 25″ diameter: Two taps.
Diameter > 25″: Three taps.
Never more than three taps. Don’t get greedy! Also, the bigger the tree’s crown (the aboveground parts), the better for sap production.
How to Tap a Maple Tree.
According to the University of Maine, the average yield of a maple’s taphole is five to 15 gallons, though it can reach up to 40 to 80 gallons a year. Ten gallons of sap can yield about one quart of syrup, so it’s important to get every drop.
- To tap a maple tree, use a 7/16 inch bitstock and drill into the tree’s truck at a slightly upward angle.
- Either buy a spout or create one by cutting an elderberry stem to about 4 or 5 inches and sharpen one end to fill the taphole. Then use a small rod and push it through the stem to knock the wood out the way and leave an open hole for the flow.
- Place a covered bucket (or a good household container, such as a milk jug) either under the spout’s opening or simply (in the case of milk jug-type object) force the spout into the object.
- Wait as the sap collects. And note, store the sap in a cold place. It can sour fairly easily, especially in the heat.
How to turn Sap into Maple Syrup.
Ahh, finally. The best step. The step that brings you ever closer to sweet, thick syrup covering warm pancakes and getting trapped in the gridiron traps of waffles. The main purpose here is to boil water off. Be careful when making your syrup. The heat is extreme, and sap creates a good bit of steam when being boiled, so it’s best to do this outdoors or at least under stove ventilation.
And while there are many ways to turn sap to syrup, this is the simplest method for those who haven’t received a Ph.D. in syrup production.
- Take a pan and start filling it with sap. Make sure you have a lot of room in the container, as the sap will boil up and possibly spill over the sides. Rubbing some butter or oil around the rim will help with this.
- Continue adding sap as the water naturally present in it evaporates. If it begins foaming, don’t stop boiling. Simply scrape the foam off, but, again, be careful as it will be extremely hot.
- Watch the heat levels, as not to burn the syrup, and keep the pan filled with 1 to 1.5 inches of liquid.
- Your first step is finished when you have your desired amount of syrup, and it is 7 degrees above the boiling point of water in your area.
- Take this syrup, while hot, and remove the sediments in one of two ways (like coffee grinds from Turkish coffee): pour through a special filter purchased at a maple store or pour into a jar and let sit for 12 hours (for sediment to settle at the bottom), then pour carefully into another container.
- Finally, reheat your syrup to 180 degrees and pour it into your containers, which should be airtight. Then place in a very cold place (preferably a freezer, as properly-made syrup will never freeze) and wait.
Voila! Your very own maple syrup made from your very own yard! It’s a small step away: all you have to do is buy mature trees, plant them, tap them and make syrup. And you can have warm, sweet syrup for years and years to come.