There is nothing like fresh maple syrup. Locally, the days between Presidents’ Day and St. Patrick’s Day are the official maple syrup harvesting days, though the weather ultimately dictates the season. You can find many places in town where you can purchase locally harvested fresh maple syrup, and some where you can watch the process.
However, if you are ambitious, why not make some yourself? It’s not as hard as you think. Here is what you need:
The first thing is to find the correct tree. Sugar maples are the best, but it is possible to tap into other kinds such as birch trees or other types of maple trees.
The trees must be tapped when daytime temperatures are above freezing, while nighttime temperatures drop below freezing. This is because on warm days, sap runs up from the tree’s roots to its branches, and back down again in preparation for the cold nights. Some years this is later into February; this year people began tapping trees in January.
To tap a tree, you will want to drill a hole the same diameter or a little bit narrower than your spile, and no longer than the length of the spile. The hole should be drilled around chest height and on the sunny side of the tree. Angle your drill up slightly, not straight in, so your spile will be angled down. This lets gravity help the sap drip into your bucket. Insert your spile by tapping lightly with a hammer. Hang your bucket on the spile’s hook.
You should check your pails daily and pour out any collected sap through a fine mesh towel or cheese cloth to remove debris. It’s best to cook your sap as you go. It takes about 50 quarts of sap to make one quart of syrup. If you heat your home with a wood stove, placing a large pot of sap on the stove to boil is an efficient way to make syrup (and make your house smell wonderful).
As you continue cooking your sap, you will notice it becoming darker, thicker, and sweeter. As the syrup becomes darker, reduce the heat and let it simmer. If using a wood stove, this is the time to switch to a small pot on your kitchen stove, so you can keep an eye on the syrup’s progress. You can determine when your syrup is done with several methods: Using a hydrometer and test cup to measure the moisture content, reaching 219 degrees F on a candy thermometer, or using the sheet test (when the syrup rolls off a spoon in a sheet). You can keep boiling to make maple candy, or stop and bottle your syrup. Feel free to do a taste test, too!
Maple syrup will grow mold if not stored properly. A good way to prevent mold from growing is to hot pack it. Heat glass bottles in a water bath, like you would for preserving or making jam. Heat the maple syrup to between 180 and 200 degrees F, remove a bottle from the water bath, and carefully pour the syrup in. Cap the bottle and tip the bottle so the syrup comes into contact with the cap. Leave bottles on their side or even upside down for about five minutes to allow the syrup’s heat to kill any bacteria remaining at the bottle’s opening. If the bottle begins to cool too quickly, place it back into the hot water bath.
Don’t forget to remove your spiles from the tree, clean and store them away for next year. Enjoy!!