placing the spiles
We have silver maples here, sometimes referred to as the "poor man's maple" since their sap isn't as sweet as the sugar maple traditionally used for syrup. But for backyard sugaring, they do the job just as well. We set taps in the three maples closest to the house, and felt just a bit giddy as the sap began to run out the metal spout. The ratio of sap to syrup is high, with 40 gallons of sap needed for every one gallon of syrup. The children kept busy checking and emptying the buckets, and after three days' time we had gathered about 13 gallons of the watery, slightly sweet sap.
checking the buckets
gathering the sap
There were some glitches along the way, with some poorly secured buckets and a leak in the galvanized container we used for collection, but we managed a good 10 or more gallons for our first boil down. It took a full day of feeding the fire out back to cook down the sap.
our make-shift evaporator, consisting of a large canning pot atop the smoker
Tasting it throughout the process, we noticed how the color changed and the sweetness grew. We treated ourselves to tea, steeped in the darkening sap. When it was ready for finishing, we brought it inside to filter and finish on the stove.
filtering through several layers of cheesecloth
The smell in the house as the sap bubbled away was warm and sweet.
With a watchful eye and a good candy thermometer, we proudly produced our first batch -- just over a quart -- of smoky, sweet syrup.
As with so many things that are homemade, the work of creating brought a deep sense of satisfaction. Our syrup is a dark amber, with a taste imparted by the wood fire reminiscent of campfire breakfasts. Stored in sterile canning jars, this syrup will stay good for months to come (but I have a feeling it won't last that long).