So, I’m still learning how to make maple syrup. I’m still messing up almost daily. But wow, I’m not sure that I’ve ever enjoyed such amazingly delicious, oh-so-sweet byproducts of my failures.
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Two years’ worth of failures have actually taught me a lot about backyard maple syrup making. (Heck, I’ve been homeschooling my daughters for 16 years, and I’m still learning from my failures in that endeavor as well.) So far in this series, we’ve reviewed how to mark your trees that you want to tap and start gathering supplies, how to drill your taps, if you live where you can tap for sap, 7 questions you should know the answer to before you tap your trees, and how to save hundreds with your backyard syrup making. Today, I’m gonna walk you through the process my daughters and husband and I go through daily to make maple syrup. Step-by-step.
Oh, and I’m gonna drop a cute cow picture in at the end…
If you don’t care much about how I make the amazing gold sugary liquid that wraps my breakfasts in a taste of heaven, you still might wanna scroll down. Cause even if you don’t care to know how to make maple syrup, who can resist an adorable cow picture? (It’s comin’.)
–> In the meantime, if you’d like directions for making your own homemade electrolyte-filled maple drink right now, just head over to the box in the sidebar or scroll to the end of this post and sign up for my weekly newsletter. I will immediately send you access to my full resource library, including a recipe for an amazing nutrient-rich maple drink. <–
Or you might be interested to know that scientific big wigs who get into such crazy ideas have actually figured out just how much really-good-for-you-stuff occurs naturally in syrup. You can read their detailed fancy-shmancy article here, or take my word for it that this amazing liquid is LOADED with antioxidants. But of course it is; it’s all-natural, totally real food.
So now that you know WHY you should wanna make and eat this deliciousness, I’m gonna walk you through the steps of HOW to make maple syrup. If you’re not ready to go out and tap some trees quite yet, that’s okay, just pin this for later.
But don’t forget to scroll down for the adorable cow picture!
I do love our holstein. My daughter named her Scout, after To Kill a Mockingbird, but oddly enough her nickname has become longer than her original moniker. We call out, “What ‘ya doin’ Girlscout?” often when we’re outside. She always comes running to say hi.
Take a Second to Save These Posts for Later
I know I come across helpful pointers online all the time that I plan on coming back to, only to realize later that I didn’t save the information, or I saved it but don’t remember where I saved it. So I wanted to save you the 20-minute heartache of floundering around for this muli-part DIY syrup series when you need it. You can PIN each post right here, then keep reading…
PIN Part 1, about identifying and marking your trees in the fall and gathering some of your preliminary supplies
PIN Part 2, about when, where, and how to drill your taps. This post also covers how to know if you live where you can tap successfully and 7 questions you need to know the answers to before you tap your trees.
PIN Part 3, about a reverse osmosis filter–what it is, how to build one yourself, and how it can save you hundreds a year in your backyard syrup making process.
PIN Part 4, the step-by-step guide to boiling your sap. This posts walks you through every important detail you need to know when processing your syrup, from tree to pancake.
Plus, you’ll want to keep an eye out for my new book that’s currently in production: Sweet Maple: How to make maple products & bake with them. Naturally. Not only will it be the perfect guide for anyone who wants to try making backyard syrup, but no maple tree taping is required in order to fall in love with this book. It will include fascinating facts about maple syrup, as well as details on how anyone can make maple sugar and maple cream (YUM!) right in their own kitchen, using real maple syrup that they can purchase in any store. Be sure to follow along here–by typing your email into the box at the end of this post. Then you’ll be one of the first to know when my new book hits the press! Even better, you can read through lots more free maple syrup resources, including ones that go along with my eCourse, Maple Joy.
But now, for the full scoop, step-by-step, of exactly how we make this amazing ambrosial syrup on our homestead…
• • Step 1: gather the sap • •
My daughters and I try to gather all the sap from the buckets each day before the maple syrup operation manager arrives on scene (aka, before my husband gets home from a long day of fixing cars, or “wrenching” as he would say). So around 4 pm we grab extra buckets and inspect each tree that is tapped directly into a bucket, emptying whatever sap we find. On our best day this year, all the 5-gallon containers were beautifully full. We had nine 5-galloon buckets–45 galloons of sap, from a dozen trees–lined up and ready for processing.
When Bill gets home, he, Kayla, and I walk up “the back” to empty out the 75-gallon drum that all of our sap lines feed into. Since the drum is in the heart of the woods, it’s much colder than the small buckets that are situated near our house, where it’s warmer. In fact, until the first week of April, with spring temperatures rising a little, the sap in the drum was frozen. He has a handy dandy battery-operated pump that was very reasonably priced. With this, we draw the sap out of the giant drum and into buckets that we can carry back to the house.
Next year, our dream is to have a tractor that we can use for collecting the sap daily. Until such luxury can be attained, well, we’re carrying buckets.
After we’ve collected the day’s sap, the next step is to run it through the Reverse Osmosis (RO) filter. In this post, I give you all the links and information you need to build your own backyard RO filter. We’re very pleased with ours. It works wonderfully and saves us hundreds on propane every year because it reduces the amount of sap we have to boil by about 50 percent.
• • Step 2: filter the sap • •
Next step (after pouring the sap through our reusable cone filter) is to run the sap through the RO filter. Basically, the RO is a series of filters that are pulling out all the “impurities”– which get directed into one bucket–and leaving only “pure water,” called “permeate” in the sap world. It’s almost always a 50/50 ratio, leaving us with half of the sap that we started with (and some pretty darn yummy filtered water), which is great because that cuts the time, and expense of the next step, in half.
The Sugarmakers’ Companion goes into pretty great depth about RO filters and if they’re a good thing. To boil it all down for you, tests have shown no change in nutritional quality or taste of the end product if the sap was or was not run through an RO filter. Basically, it’s filtering out all the good stuff, which you than can boil into sap in half the amount of time.
• • Step 3: boil the sap outside • •
After the sap has run through the RO filter, we turn on the propane tank and fill our giant pot 3/4 full of the filtered sap. We never fill it more than that because sap has a tendency to boil up and over a pot edge very easily. If you wanna know why we don’t do the boiling inside, I explain that in this brief video.
We add more sap often, always keeping it at the 3/4-full mark or less. On the really productive days, when we gathered tons of sap, we can’t finish it all in one night. We’ll stop after a few hours of boiling and label the sap buckets “RO,” with tape on their lids, so we don’t mix them up the next day with straight sap that we collect. (Although, honestly, we’d have to be half asleep to mix them up. The filtered sap is golden tinted; straight sap looks like water.)
• • Step 4: boil the sap inside • •
When the outside pan has boiled down to only a few inches of sap, we bring it inside.
By the way, when it’s getting close to that point, never leave it unattended. It just takes a few minutes of your eyes off of it for it to boil down to burnt-on, burnt-up mess. I learned the hard way, the gotta-go-out-and-buy-a-new-$90-pan-tomorrow way. I explain in this short video. (Click the link or scroll to the bottom of this post for the video.)
Once you take it off the outside heat source, you’ll need to very carefully filter the boiled-down sap to get out impurities that blew in while you boiled. If you don’t get these out, your syrup will be very bitter tasting. We started off, last year, using coffee filters to do this step, but it was pretty much pointless, because coffee filters leave lots of sediment. Now we use a reusable, washable cone filter we found very reasonably on Amazon and made a make-shift holder for it out of a heavy-duty hanger. But you can buy a filter stand, if you’d like to look like you know what you’re doing. (Plus, admittedly, our set up does sometimes fall into the bucket.)
Our maple syrup operation manager designed and installed a fancy steam tunnel to direct steam out our downdraft vent. (aka my husband riggs up a temporary set up with chimney pipe pieces he had sitting in the basement to keep sticky steam off our kitchen walls.)
A few weeks ago, when we were boiling on the kitchen stove, we weren’t watching every. single. second. That was a messy mistake. When sap boils over, it does so very rapidly and with great enthusiasm.
Sadly, we didn’t learn the first time. After 20 minutes of sticky clean up, we put the pot back on the heat and–I’m embarrassed to admit it–walked away for a minute. But, I can proudly say we did NOT make that same mistake a third time that night.
Because we packed it up. In utter discouragement. And went to bed.
But when all is going well, we get the filtered sap up to a boil of exactly 219 degrees. This perfect temperature does depend on your altitude; you need the sap boiling at exactly 7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water. At that temperature a magic thing happens. Sap becomes syrup. Just like that. The plain-old-step-sister-like tree sap becomes the cinderella of syrup. Except it does take a lot more than just waving a magic wand.
Ideally, at 219 degrees you should scoop some syrup into a hydrometer test cup and measure the syrup’s sugar content (called the “brix”) with a hydrometer. Your sugar content should be at 66% or higher. If your syrup is under that perfect measurement, you would let it boil another minute or two and try again.
But we haven’t made this investment yet. We simply take it off when it reaches 219 degrees.
After one more pass though the reusable cone filter, it’s finally time to bottle our liquid gold.
• • Step 5: bottle the syrup • •
We use a canning funnel to pour the syrup into pint jars (leaving about an inch of head space). We boil canning lids and (using a magnetic canning lid lifter) screw them on immediately after pouring the syrup in. Then we invert the jars, to make it extra easy for the lids to seal, and cover the jars with towels, so they hold their heat until they seal. With the fancy syrup jars I recently purchased (I mention WHY in this post), there’s no need for boiling lids, we just screw them on as soon as we fill the jars; they’re self-sealing. I can’t find the same bottles online right now. These are similar jars, but they have metal lids. I’m not sure if those would require boiling to seal (like the canning lids do), but the plastic lids seal from the heat of the syrup.
We have to boil the sap to different temperatures and follow different steps if we’re making maple sugar or maple cream. I’ll give you the complete low down on how to make those two heavenly delicacies in future posts.
Be sure to follow along so you don’t miss one spoonful of potential deliciousness. Plus, as soon as you follow by going to this link or scrolling to the box at the bottom of this post and typing in your email address, you’ll have instant access to my subscriber library. I’m continually adding new helpful, inspirational, or potentially delicious printables. One resource you can snag there right now is a simple recipe for making your own homemade electrolyte-filled maple drink. Who can resist an all-natural gatorade that tastes like maple!
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. Romans 1:20
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my new book–Sweet Maple: How to make maple products & bake with them. Naturally. Not only is it the perfect guide for anyone who wants to try making backyard syrup, but no maple tree taping is required in order to fall in love with this book. It includes details on how to bake with maple syrup as an all-natural alternative to refined sugar, offers 30 pages of delicious maple-infused recipes, and has chapters that detail how anyone can make maple sugar and maple cream (YUM!) right in their own kitchen, using real maple syrup that they can purchase in any store.
Should you own a copy of Sweet Maple?
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That video I promised you, about why you should never take your eyes off of boiling sap.–>
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All of these resources, and lots more, are included in my Subscriber Resource Library:
A yummy (piece-of-cake easy!) recipe for Maple Cream Icing.
A printable list of the 22 trees that are popular for tapping across the U.S. (And even around the world!)
Links to helpful resource pages to aid you as you consider tapping your trees.
An impressive list of ingredients in all-natural maple sweeteners. (Compared to refined sugar, there’s no comparison.)
A recipe for Maple Sap Switchel (This amazing homemade electrolyte drink is like Gatorade but so much better!)
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