Monday, February 20, 2012

Tapping Our Sugar Maples

    This is my favorite family activity ... no doubt about it, and it's so sad that it was my last time for a while, thanks to college. In late February of next year I'm going to have a wave of home sickness and my roommates will think I'm nuts as I find myself a sugar maple on campus and use my hairpins to drill a hole and tap my maple syrup.

    When the days are above freezing and the nights still below freezing the maple sap runs and we get busy. It's possible to tap in the autumn, and some of our neighbors do, but the weather is more unpredictable in the autumn so we tap all we need in the early spring.  

    We only tap a tree if it's diameter is ten inches or more. You have to tap at least 4 inches to the side and 8 inches below all previous holes. The hole should be about 2 inches deep, and a centimeter wide to accommodate the tap. 

   We can tell a sugar maple by it's bark most of the time, but the sap doesn't run in any other tree so if you've drilled into an oak or a hickory by mistake it is easy to immediately tell because the sap doesn't start to run down the tree. We know our woods well enough to know which trees produce the most, and which trees need to be given a break.

Is There a Rhyme of Reason to this Madness?
    We run tubing from the tap into five gallon buckets that sit on the forest floor. To place a tap just hammer it into the hole until you feel the strikes with the hammer grown solid. Then you know you have it it deep enough. We then run the tubing into a hole in five gallon bucket lid and secure it on top of the bucket so rain and bugs can't get inside.


    One tree produces an average of two gallons on a warm day that proceeds a freezing night (that's the best weather conditions for tapping) and about ten gallons in a season. We usually gather the sap every day and take it up to the house where we slowly boil it down.

     We use this pan to boil down the sap because it has a nice amount of surface area and gets very hot. We also love the spout at the end. I think we got it from an Amish auction at a sensational price. But after it sits in the basement for a year it really needs a scrub! 

     It take forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Our family needs about fave gallons a year, but that includes all the half pints we give away as Christmas gifts (about a half gallon in all). So that means two hudnred gallons of sap and twenty plus trees to tap just for our family. it's a lot of work.
    You don't want to store your sap for than two or three days becuase the bactiria starts to eat the sugar content and it because a waste of your time to boild down all that water with so little sugar.

    We actually built our furnace out of cinder block and leftover firebrick from building the fireplace in our house. It works well, but is really ugly. Someday we want to build something permanent and much nicer looking.
    We start the fire early in the morning and work in shifts until late at night when we cover the pan and go to sleep. This lasts for as long as the season lets us, with our only breaks taken on Sundays. The person manning the boiler has to wheel their wood over from the shed (the best wood to use is elm because it burns very HOT), cut it into smaller pieces with the ax or hatchet, and feed the fire almost constantly. They also have to add sap so the boiling mixture doesn't get below four inches deep. It could burn otherwise. 

    The last of the boiling is very technical so we do the last bit in the kitchen. The syrup is ready to can when the sugar content reaches between sixty-six and sixty-seven percent of the mixture. We know it reaches this stage when the liquid rises to two hundred nineteen degrees Fahrenheit, (depending on your elevation). 
    When it reaches that point we filter it to remove the 'sugar sand' and ladle it into sterilized jars before putting it through a quick hot water bath and storing it in the food storage room.

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