Alright, everybody! The firewood is gathered and stacked. The maple sap is ready to tap. Chris has some tips for first-time maple syrup makers. Then, once you try it a few times, you'll be hooked and you will develop a rhythm and method of your own.
First, get permission to tap sugar maples that a friend or neighbor has if you don't have your own trees. Then plan to share your syrup as a thank-you.
Each year you'll wait in happy anticipation for the weather to break, about the time you see the first robin. In southern Ohio, that's NOW!!! Warm days above freezing and cool nights hovering around or just below freezing make great sap gathering days. The sap isn't always running so fast. I counted drops coming out of our spouts this morning at 2 to 3 per second!
When you drill into a tree, match your drill bit to the size of your spout for tapping. We use clean cpvc plumbing pipe, cut about 5 inches long. Chris tapers the spouts down on the end to fit snugly in the tree. You can also, if you have access to them, use elderberry spouts which you make yourself, or purchase the maple syrup industry's standard spout. Chris says to drill the hole so that the spout will point downward. Otherwise, the sap can run back into the tree and freeze or, worse yet, attract ants.
Gallon water jugs make an excellent container to hang on the tree. Leave the lid on and just cut a small hole near the top big enough for the tap to poke into but not so large that debris will get into the jugs. Secure with a strap that can slip over a nail that is secure but not deep into the tree. (Chris plugs holes after sap season.) Plan to check jugs about three times a day.
The jugs of sap, looking as thin and clear as mountain stream water, are then emptied into clean food-safe plastic buckets. These are carried to a tank for safe keeping until they are added to the cast iron kettle. The sap will naturally turn darker as it thickens but can be as light as honey. With cast iron, expect it to reach a rich brown. With stainless steel, it will be more like dark honey. The sap can boil but we like to keep it at an even simmer, feeding the wood fire carefully, and then adding sap to the pot as it cooks down. We keep a tally of every gallon we add. As the sap gets close to the syrup stage, we check its thickness more often and clean off the foam that forms naturally and any debris from ash as it collects. When the kettle is almost full with a thickening sap and we're ready to shut down the sap cooking, we heat to boil. It's important to get to the right temperature, 219 degrees, (7 degrees about the boiling water temperature here in southern Ohio) and the right sugar content, 66 to 67 Brix on the hydrometer. Then it's ready to filter into cute little maple syrup containers or jars. We filter through a thick wool felt that I found at a fabric store and boiled.
About the hydrometer--useful to check the sugar content--66-67% solids in the syrup when it's just right. Above 67% can yield a syrup that turns crystalline in storage containers. A hydrometer is handy but unnecessary. The old-time method of taste and feel works pretty well.
Plan to gather 35 to 45 gallons of sap for every gallon of syrup you make. This means the process will take a few days. It's work, but so fun and the end product is absolutely 100% pure YUM!!!
Welcome to The Pauley Principle!
The Pauli Principle, named for Wolfgang Pauli, deals with atoms and electron-sharing that results in new, stronger bonds. Think 2 parts hydrogen and 1 part oxygen, a shared delectable (!) electron and VOILA! Water!
Similarly, when you prepare whole food to share with family and friends, especially foods you've grown, something amazing happens. Meals become tastier and healthier. Your soul, not just your stomach, becomes fulfilled. You live life more abundantly as a result. During a shared meal, the bonds that people create grow stronger and become something new: GREATER than the sum of the parts! I give you The Pauley Principle.