During this first year, I’ve learned most maple syrup folks decide to boil down their sap outdoors, or in dedicated sugar houses/huts. This should be done at the outset – the humidity released is not really good at these levels inside one’s home.
I used a combination of outdoor on an induction plate, and late on, indoor for final work, as I didn’t have a good wood burning setup for syrup this year, and wasn’t expecting to get as much as I did (from four trees). I knew if I were to expand in future years (which I most certainly WILL), that I would indeed need an outdoor setup.
WHY? Because boiling large quantities of what is mostly water will send humidity skyrocketing, and water vapor will eventually condense and drip down your walls and ruin woodwork and probably sheetrock. Yes, I make bone broth in my kitchen, but that’s a lesser volume, and most of the time that pot is at a simmer. A robust simmer, but a simmer…
I will write about outdoor sugaring in 2022!
Is this your trial year… two to five trees, maybe five gallons of collected sap?
What you will need:
- Collecting bucket – you pour excess sap from your trees into at least one of these. I opted for a five-gallon food-safe bucket. You can find them at your local feed supply and at the big box hardware stores (although I note when I got my food safe five gallon bucket for my chickens at Home Depot, the guy I talked to there had absolutely no clue what I was talking about!) Sorry, I don’t want to give water to my chickens from a bad bucket. This is not going to be what you will boil down the sap in, in most cases. Just large storage – with lids. Wash it / them out.
- A food thermometer that can read in liquid. Most can, but check. Candy thermometers should always work, and meat thermometers usually can. The WiFI enabled ones are less useful for this purpose, I suspect, since they are meant to be set into a solid object and left there to send you readouts. It’s not like you can insert them in the sap/syrup and read anything… But I would go digital on this purchase, read via the old-fangled eyeball rather than your phone or something silly like that.
- A maple syrup hydrometer that reads in Brix. This tells you the proper sugar content when you can stop.
- Filter paper. And a strainer.
- A good heat source so you can boil down the sap into syrup. NEXT YEAR I’ll have a formal outdoor setup. This post is really only for a trial first year…. but some principles can be retained for larger scale operations.
- Pans for holding the sap as you boil that stuff down. Online, I see a lot of stainless steel food service buffet trays being put to use. I’ll do that next year. Their wide-open surface areas will help water boil off more quickly than the pots I ended up using.
- Filter paper for later-stage straining..
- Final collection containers for storage. As fancy or as utilitarian as you like. Sealable lids or caps.
1: MORE COLLECTION NOTES:
Periodically collect sap you’ve obtained. You need to watch the weather – you can continue tapping that tree, but not desirable to have the bucket overflow (duh). Stop tapping by the time buds begin to open! I am given to understand that the sap will 1) not flow as fast; and 2) will impart a bitter taste. Decided not to test this theory.
Also – ice in the buckets – if just some and not nearly the entire container, save the sap, evaporate off some of the outer water on the remaining mini-iceberg, and discard the rest of the chuck of ice, which will be containing hardly any maple sugar at all, as pure water will freeze before sugared water. Of course, if nearly all of your bucket is filled with ice, eventually the water containing the sap will ALSO freeze. So… let that melt down!
For storing the sap prior to boiling: put in refrigerator. OR, leave outdoors in a covered bucket surrounded by snow or ice. OR, if the weather is 40 F or under, put it out of the sun and leave it out doors, not worrying about packing around it with snow/ice. (This is what I did this year. The fridge was rather full with other things.)
Be prepared to work in batches.
PS: Your initial sap, prior to processing, will taste more or less, like WATER. Good clean water, but water!
2: CLEAN your boiling pot (and other tools) well.
3: STRAIN THE SAP PRIOR TO BEGINING THE BOIL. I used a regular kitchen strainer with a layer of paper towel in the strainer to catch finer stuff. I usually strained into the boiling pot, but pick what is appropriate.
4: BOIL THE SAP, checking occasionally at the outset, more frequently as the sap cooks down. You don’t want to overcook, and towards the bottom, water will evaporate off faster. You can skim any foam off the top that appears. (Some people will add a few drops of a good cooking oil to prevent foam – I opted not to this year, in order to have “pure maple syrup”.) Since I was using a relatively small pot, when the first batch was nearly all the way cooked, I added in a second batch, and continued cooking down. At that point, it was nearly dark (I got started around noon that first day, as there were errands earlier), so I poured this off into a smaller cooktop pot and set aside overnight. This was getting close to “ready” but not there yet. The next morning immediately after the temps got above freezing, I resumed filtering and boiling with the original (re-cleaned) larger pot, as per the first day. (I left the first day’s semi-final collection alone, until again at the end of the day it was time to add this day’s boiled down syrup to the prior’s.)
This process took three days – I was still tapping one final tree until the third morning, plus I was working with one induction plate and a not-very-large pot.
PS; For a first time user who opts to go with a small propane plate outdoors – you will be going through a LOT of rather expensive and small propane canisters. I’d come up with a setup using a full scale propane grill with the larger propane container, if you wish to go that route.
PSS: Follow all safety and operating guidances that come with your specific induction or propane unit!!! For instance, my induction plate won’t run more than two hours at a time on the “boil” setting – but a fifteen minute plate cooldown (with the sap still remaining hot) seems to work with mine. I did actually run it in one hour increments with a 5 – 10 minute plate cooldown between each run. Which is fine – I really wanted to check every hour (and more frequently as the sap turned into syrup)!
PSSS: At the end of each boiling session (each of three day’s accumulation), I taste-tested the syrup I intended to add to the final collecting pot. If one were to taste OFF, I would have collected that separately from the initial collection pot. Why make a batch you know is already going to taste good, even if it would need a bit more work to be fully syrup, mixed with a bitter or off batch?
4: LAST SYRUPING STAGES.
Things may proceed very fast in the last stages of evaporation. TBH, mine did. I’ll know better next year – but I was able to save this.
Towards the end, keep checking your syrup temperature as it boils. Ideally, you want to filter out any cloudy stuff when the syrup temperature reaches 216 F, and again at the finishing temperature of 219 F. Note that those temperatures are based on the boiling temperature of pure water at sea level – 212 F or 100 C respectively to units you may use. You will adjust downwards depending on how high you are in elevation above sea level – for instance, I am living at 1600 feet above sea level these days. Filter the inevitable cloudiness through something akin to a really large coffee filter. Maple Tapper supplied me with a one (reusable on a limited basis if cleaned immediately with hot water and NO soap) in the tapping kit I bought. Note, you won’t be able to filter much of anything as temperatures reduce down towards ambient. Syrup obviously will get more thick as temperatures decline, hence filtering should be done at higher temperatures. Filtering makes the final product more professionally salable.
To do the Brix – a density measurement readout – get yourself a Hydrometer and follow their specific directions. The one I purchased came from Brewing America, comes with complete instructions for measuring Brix density for syrup. And gives you a good chart for reading what the optimal density is for any temperature from 211 F to 50 F. You’ll know if you need to continue boiling or not. You can find it on Amazon (which is where I got mine) or more directly at: American-Made Syrup Hydrometer Density Meter for Sugar and Maple Syrup – Brewing America. (I will be purchasing directly from them if I have future needs.)
I really figured considering after over-boiling mine, I probably didn’t need to do the Brix, but for the sake of this blog post, I did. I waited until the syrup went down to room temperature (68 F these days, measured via a very accurate in-house weather station, as long as I don’t rely on that gadget to PREDICT anything), to measure the Brix. Extrapolating from a Brix of 66.4 at 70 F, I hoped for something like 66.5 Brix at 68 F. (Yes, the warmer a syrup is, the less density…) My Brix was at 66.7. I called it a day.
PS: the new food thermometer I just bought kept fluctuating up, down and all around. Which is why I didn’t measure at a higher temperature, but waited for room temperature. I wish I could FIND the two food thermometers I KNOW I have here in-house someday!
A level of density that is appropriate for maple syrup will help you keep your syrup healthy for eating, even if the final containers are not always in the refrigerator. (Back in 2011, when I was subject to three long term power outages – one being Hurricane Irene – it was nice to know that the maple syrup I had in the fridge then was not going to go bad over the period of a week of no electric.) Much of this shelf-stability depends on sugar concentration. As contradictory as this may seem, a high level of sugar is actually food-protective.
5: FIXING MY MAPLE SYRUP.
Can’t guarantee this “repair” will always work. I had a small batch of nearly-cooked syrup from the first night, and I combined it with the last somewhat-over-cooked-and-trying-to-be-solid last batch. Heated it to medium low on my indoor cooktop, and mixed it, using two larger spoons to blend the harder syrup into the older. Yes, I ran the risk of losing my original batch, but as this is a trial operation, In for a gander, in for a lark… I went forward. Eventually, with attention, the harder syrup dissolved into the other batch.
6: GRADES OF MAPLE SYRUP.
I was aiming for Grade A Dark, the old Grade B. I think one reason the nomenclature changed is that “grade B” sounds second-rate, and most aficionados do prefer the flavor of a little darker. This year’s syrup here is likely “Dark”, but verges towards the “Very Dark” designation. But… quite good. I am as usual more interested in overall flavor than in sweetness, so I am happy to work with the darker end of the syrup spectrum this year.
Maple Tapper sent along some maple syrup recipes.
Here is the list:
- Apple Cranberry Crostini with Maple Glaze. (Looks good. May switch the cranberries out for currants. Currants are small enough that the dried-fruit texture would mostly disappear…)
- Maple Apple Raisin Baked Oatmeal. (I would personally ditch the raisins into the compost.)
- Maple Glazed Pork Tenderloin. (Looks good, but might want to adapt to sous vide for the pork? Since pork tenderloin is finicky towards dryness?)
- Roasted Root Vegetables with Maple-Turmeric Glaze. (Looks awesome!).
- Maple Glazed Bacon Wrapped Sage Apricots. (If only the apricots weren’t dried!! Possibly these could be chopped down so there would not be that overwhelming dried fruit texture/sweetness? I may experiment with fresh.)
As noted, I will be upscaling my operation next year. I may even tap a few birch trees. The latter will yield less syrup per volume of sap than the maples, but I’m eager to experiment!
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