Clear as water, sweet as honey. It might be hard to believe, but that’s the best description I can provide for sap as it flows from maple trees. It doesn’t get that rich amber color until it’s boiled into maple syrup.
Tapping your own trees is a labor-intensive process, but it’s one that my family has come to enjoy. My dad has always enjoyed sharing his love of nature with us kids. Now making our own maple syrup has become another great way to spend time together while taking advantage of what nature provides in our own “backyard.”
Two years ago my parents, my husband and I attended a maple syrup production workshop at the Lime Creek Nature Center. We used some ideas shared during the Lime Creek workshop to develop our own system last spring. Using a power drill, Dad drills a small hole in several mature maple trees. He takes special care to rotate between trees since we’re producing on a small scale and have 80 acres of timber to work with. If Dad does decide to tap the same tree multiple years, the key is to tap below and away from the previous year’s hole to avoid damaging the tree and achieving a good run of sap. He then uses an inch PVC tapper, gently tapping it into the
tree at a downward angle. He attaches a small hose to the tapper and runs the hose into a retrofitted Rubbermaid tote with a lid. This helps keep leaves and other debris from contaminating the sap and also prevents wildlife from partaking in a sweet treat.
The amount of sap collected each year depends on the freeze/thaw action and the winter weather season. Sap flows best if there are freezing nights followed by warm days. The weather also dictates the collection time, which also varies each year. The mild winter created a fast flow earlier in the season. On March 1, we tapped 10 trees and collected 25 gallons in just one day.
Once the sap is collected, we pour 10 gallons into a cast iron pot that sits on a tripod over an open fire. The goal is to achieve a rolling boil and evaporate the water in the sap. When the pot is boiled way down, we insert a thermometer to monitor the temperature. (SIDE NOTE: My dad uses a remote thermometer. This way he can work around the farm until the sap reaches the correct temp, but he still needs to periodically monitor the fire to keep the sap boiling.)
When the syrup reaches 219 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s ready to can. Clean Mason jars are lined on the counter and filled. We filter the sap through cheesecloth to catch any possible inconsistencies from reaching the final jar. No special sealing is needed as the heat from the syrup will seal the canning jars.
The process is really quite simple! While it takes a while to make, we take pride in our homemade product. Our maple syrup produces a smokey flavor not found in mass-produced syrups.
My favorite way to enjoy our homemade maple syrup is over pancakes or corn bread, so today I’m sharing a recipe for Buttery Corn Bread. I’m also including a recipe I found online for Maple BBQ Sauce. Since we also raise cattle, we have plenty of home-raised beef in our freezer. I’m looking forward to cooking up some beef ribs with Maple BBQ Sauce soon!
Buttery Corn Bread
2/3 C. butter or margarine softened (I use butter)
1 C. sugar
1 2/3 C. milk
2 1/3 C all-purpose flour
1 C. cornmeal
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Cream butter and sugar; mix in eggs and milk. Combine dry ingredients; add to creamed mixture alternately with egg mixture.
Pour into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 22-27 minutes or until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cut into squares; serve warm.
Maple BBQ Sauce
3 C ketchup
1 T. dry mustard
1 C. water
1 T. paprika
6 T. vinegar
2 T. pepper
½ C. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. salt
3/4 C. maple syrup
Combine all ingredients and simmer 5 minutes.