Making Maple Syrup and
Sugar - Processing, Canning and Recipes
Well, some of the best
maple syrup may come from Vermont, but who
started making maple syrup in the first place in the States? What is
the history behind this age old tradition?
we can look at legend. It was said that an Indian woman was cooking a
rabbit or some venison for stew when she ran out of water.
Instead, she used some sap that was flowing freely from an
opening on a maple tree. When everyone tasted how delicious the
meat was cooked this way, they decided to tap more maple trees.
this is true or not, if we want to track the history of maple tapping
then we need to look more at the facts. Was it the Indians who taught
the French colonialists, or the other way around?
Well, we do know that the Iroquois Indians
Sisters Garden system
, also had an ancient religious festival
dedicated to the maple and had a Maple Dance. Therefore, we know that
the maple tree for them, had been important for a very long time.
The Ojibwa tribe
also had a maple sugar
festival, and perhaps other tribes did too who were involved in the
making of this sweet delicacy. ot only did they have a festival, but
they also had a deity connected to the sugar, as well as a special name
for the months of March and April when harvesting the liquid would
begin. These months were known as "sugar moon
An Owijbe Woman Tapping a
During the maple
sugar making festival the sugar makers were invited to
the lodge of the medicine man. A piece of the old sugar from the last
season is mixed to together with a piece of sugar from the current
season. A prayer of thanks is given while this is done, and then each
present is given a little to eat. After which they then sit down to a
The various Indian tribes all had their own words for the sap, the
tree, the sugar process etc. This indicates that these words were part
of their language and their culture and that they were not adopted
words that were taken from the colonists. This gives us a strong
indication that it wasn't the French who were the original sugar makers
but the indigenous Indian population.
With the sugar maple (Acer
saccharinum) growing so well in the Northern
climates, it is interesting to see that it was mainly those Indians
from the northern tribes who were involved in making maple sugar. New
England and the region of the Great Lakes were particularly areas of
development of this art, although by no means confined to just these
Traditionally then, sugar making from the maple was done by catching
the sap by dishes and bowls placed at the bottom of the trees. The sap
was usually caught in birch dishes and
boiled in earthen kettles. The
small quantity of dark, thick syrup was then cooked down further to
make the only type of sugar available to the Indians at that time.
When the early settlers came to America, their sugar soon ran out, and
with no sugar cane around, they came to rely on the Indians for their
sugar, and the knowledge of how to make maple sugar themselves.
For more than 100 years the collection of maple sap for syrup didn't
change much at all. Slowly some changes came about when iron or copper
kettles were preferred to the bark and clay kettles, and the sap was
then collected in buckets rather than using the birch bark bowls. But
still it was boiled in outside open shelters in the woods with no
protection from the weather, or from ash, falling leaves, twigs and
dirt that all found its way into the boiling sap.
Today, of course, although there still hasn't been much change in the
process of making maple syrup from sap; buckets are covered, and these
days we understand why it is good to prevent any kind of debris from
falling into the sap.
Which Trees are used to Make Maple Syrup?
Syrup, is done by using the sap from the hard
maple trees known as Acer
Saccharinum, However, there are people who
have also managed to tap sap from the soft maple varieties. Black and
Norwegian maple trees are preferred after the sugar maple for making
When can you start Tapping Maple Trees?
Maple tapping starts in February,
when the sap starts to run, and if
you are lucky to live in maple tree country, such as in Vermont, New
York, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, then you will
want to try your hand at tapping the syrup from the trees and making
your own sugar.
Once refined, there is no difference in appearance or quality between
sugar that has been made from sugar cane, or sugar that has been made
from the maple trees. Traditionally that sap was gathered, processed
and then formed into solid cakes.
Equipment for Maple Tapping
It is important to have
the right equipment for making maple syrup, and
making sure that you have a complete set for every tree you want to
You will need a spile -
traditionally made from
the sumach bush. These days you can buy a metal spile or spout
from your hardware store. You will need one for every
Ready-made spouts can be bought with a hook on them where you
can hang your buckets. These spouts are usually made of galvanized
iron, a few inches long, and about an inch wide.
Or, you can
make your own spiles using sumac wood. Use 4 inch lengths of wood which
has been hollowed out. If you are using sumac, make sure you
wood from the red berry sumac, as wood from the white and green berried
sumac bushes are poisonous. If you are using the sumac spiles, than you
will need to tap in a 4 inch nail just above the spout to support your
Traditional Maple Spouts
You will also need a bucket for every
tree. On a
good day you could end up with 5 quarts of syrup per tree, so make
sure that your buckets will be big enough to hold the sap. 2-3 gallon
galvanized buckets are perfect for maple syrup collection.
You may also want to
have a cover for every
bucket, as even
if you strain the sap and remove the leaves and twigs that may fall
into the sap as you are tapping, it will still end up contaminating the
Besides your bucket and
spout you will also need a
drill or small
auger to make the hole, and a wooden mallet to knock
your spout or spile into the tree.
For the processing of
the sap you will need a
large pot for
boiling it in, a strainer
and a ladle.
It is cheaper to process your
sap over an open fire, but then you don't have a lot of control over
the heat as you would over an electric or gas stove.
Finally, if you are
wanting to make Maple Sugar then you
will need large tin
How to Tap Maple Trees and Collect the Sap
You need to make
a hole 2-4 feet off the ground
into the south side of the Maple tree. In times past, people used to
tap 4 feet off the ground. However, nowadays, people prefer tapping 2
feet off the ground.
Choose the larger trees for sap collecting, that is any tree that is
more than 10 inches in diameter
. The south
side is known to give out
more sap on a sunny day.
The hole should not be
more than a 1/2 inch in diameter
, and don't go
more than 3 inches into the tree. The main sap is not found in the
center of the tree, as some people think, but actually just under the
You want to tap the tree
, and even going 2 inches into
the bark would be enough. The hole should be deep enough to take the
spout and the weight of a full bucket without pulling out, but not too
deep that it does damage to the tree.
The other thing you have to take care of is the diameter of the hole
. Any hole bigger than 1 inch will damage the tree.
want to end up killing the Maples. You want to make sure that you tap
sustainably. Over the years, the tree will fill in the hole with new
plant tissue. You will need to tap in a new place the following year,
not from the same tap hole, and at least 6 inches from the previous
You can put two taps into a tree but only add 1 extra tap for every 6-8
inches in diameter, in addition to the standard 10 inch diameter tree.
If you have a tree with more than a girth of 2 feet you
can put in 4
taps, but no more
When making the hole, make it so that you are not going into the wood
straight, but at a slight angle downwards (10 - 15 degrees) to
facilitate the flow. After making the hole with your auger or drill
make sure that you remove any wood dust or chips from the hole and that
it is totally clean. This will also help with the sap flow, as well as
making sure that you have nothing contaminating your sap. Pure sap
makes the clearest syrup and best sugar.
As soon as you drill your hole, tap
in your spout or spile with a
and hook your bucket onto this. Note I said,
than "knock" as you need to do this gently. If you hammer the spout
into the tree you can run the risk of splitting the bark and damaging
Place the covers on the
and wait for your sap to run. Most sap
runs between 9 in the morning to midday, after that it slows down. It
is this morning sap that contains the most sugar, rather than the
Maple Sap Dripping into a Bucket from the Spout
Only tap after the worst of the cold
weather has passed. You don't want
to find that your sap has frozen. Also, once you have collected your
Maple sap, don't allow it to warm up as it will sour. You need to boil
it as soon as it has been gathered for the best results.
The best sugar will be
made from the early runs in the season. Later in
the maple sugar season you will find that the sugar made from this sap
will be darker, and not as pure. This is because more lime, potash,
magnesia and other substances are now present in the sap. And so, by
the time the tree has started to open its leaf buds, the sap is no
longer worth tapping as the sugar will not be good at all.
Stop tapping when the sap
is a pale to bright yellow color as this is a
sign that the tree is about to bud and then the sap will be no good for
making maple syrup.
Instructions for Making Maple Sugar
Type of Fuel for Making
In the olden days, it
was important to have the right type of wood.
This was because you needed a high heat to get the sap to a roaring
boil, and you can only do that if you have dry wood. It didn't matter
what sort of wood it was, but it had to be dry. Therefore
better to use
wood from last season, dried well, and stored before the rains started.
Maple Sugar Making
When you boil the sap,
take care that it doesn't burn. Many an old
timer will tell you that if your syrup weighs 11 pounds to the gallon,
your sap has just the right amount of water content to make good syrup.
You want it thick enough to taste right, but not too thick that it will
granulate. As a result, as soon as the syrup reaches a temperature of
219 degrees F.
at sea level, and remove it from the heat. For every 550
ft about sea level , add 1 degree Fahrenheit to this temperature.
However, this can take quite a while to get to this heat as for most of
the time you will just be boiling mainly water from the sap
and the temperature here will be your normal boiling point for water at
212 degrees F. If you
have say 6 gallons of sap, it will take 4-5 hours
before you get to the point where the sap will turn to syrup.
While you are boiling your sap, because most of the content is water,
you don't have to watch it that much. It is only towards the end, when
the water has evaporated away, and the temperature moves north of 212
degrees F. that you have to watch that it doesn't climb too high and
you end up scorching or burning your syrup.
If you are boiling the sap inside the house, oven as many windows as
possible, or boil it outside, as there is a lot of evaporation
involved, and you will have condensation everywhere!
You will know when your maple syrup is near the end when it starts to
get a thick white foam on the top. You need to skim this off
as it develops and discard. You will need to make sure that you have a
big enough pot for boiling the sap as when it gets to this stage there
is always a danger of it boiling up and over the sides of the pot.
you are worried about this happening, you can add just a drop of cream
or a tiny bit of butter into the mixture, and it will go
again. It is important to keep up a rapid boil so that you can reach
that desired temperature of 219 degrees F. at sea level.
Now strain the syrup to remove any dark-colored impurities. This stage
is important as there will always be "sugar sand" - a
compound that needs to be removed. Using coffee filters are good for
this. After it has been strained, put it back on the heat and boil
briefly at 212 degrees F. before pouring the finished maple syrup while
still hot into sterilized mason jars and seal. If you want to filter
again through the coffee filters, you can do this as you are pouring
the syrup into the jars.
The best maple syrup is
light in color. Light amber is what you are
aiming for. Anything darker than this will not have the maple syrup
flavor you are after, although it is still perfect for home use. Your
maple syrup will last a long time without the need for any artificial
A gallon of syrup will
make between 8-10 pounds of sugar.
How to Make Maple Sugar
If you don't watch your
maple syrup in its final stages, what you will
end up is granulated
maple sugar. However, you will need a sugar
thermometer at this stage to control the heat, and differentiate
between making the different maple sugars required.
You can make both soft and hard maple sugar. Both will keep well if
stored in air-tight containers.
How to Make Soft Maple
To make soft maple
sugar, cook your maple syrup on a high heat bringing
it up to 242 degree F. and then let it cool to 155 degrees F. Stir
it becomes thick. Then pour it into molds.
How to Make Hard Maple
Boil your maple syrup to
245 degrees F.
And cool it to 150 degrees F.
Stir until crystals form. Take the finished product, once cooled and
store in air-tight containers.
How to Make Granulated
Although maple sugar is
traditionally made into cakes or bricks, it can
also be made into granulated sugar. This is done by boiling the syrup
to 240-243 degrees F.
This will make a medium hard sugar. When it is
stirred enough to make a good sugar grain, it can be poured into
However, if you carry on stirring without moulding it, it will
granulate and form what is called "stirred sugar".
If you allow this sugar to dry out, you can then pound this sugar with
a pestle and mortar and make it quite fine. The trick though to doing
this, is to make sure that you are able to dry the sugar out without
burning it. Large evaporation
pans are used here, rather than the large
iron pots. The shallowness of the pans allows for better evaporation.
How to Store Maple Sugar
should be stored in a cool, dry place. If you are going to store
it in tins, place a piece of wax paper underneath the tin lid. If
you don't, the sugar is likely to go mouldy and can ferment.
Maple Syrup Recipes
There are very few
recipes that use maple syrup in jam recipes because
the flavors are too strong and will overpower the fruit. However, we do
have a candy recipe here for you, as well as a recipe for maple butter.
Maple butter, is also known as maple cream. Coat the inside of a pot to prevent foaming. Pour in maple syrup and
cook until the temperature reaches 111 degrees F. Remove from
heat and cool to 10 degrees F. If you are in a hurry you can reduce the
temperature by either placing the syrup in a bowl into another lined
with iced water, or you can place it in the deep freeze.
Once the syrup has reached the desired temperature whip the mixture
with an egg beater until it is creamy.
small batches of maple butter at a time to reduce the risk of
Traditional Jack Wax -
Maple Syrup Candy for Kids
Over the generations of
making maple sugar and syrup there has always
been a treat for the kids in making Jack
This candy is made once the maple syrup reaches a temperature of about
Remove some of this syrup and pour it directly on the snow outside,
either in strands or in a thin layer.
You will end up with brittle toffee that both you and the kids will
to eat. Enjoy!
Canning Maple Syrup
If you want to keep your
maple syrup for a long time, then it is best
to think of canning it. However, because you will end up with too much
head space if you canned it using the hot method, it is better to can
maple syrup cold.
Too much head space means that your syrup could
crystallize or ferment as it shrinks under high heat.
Therefore it is better to can
your maple syrup cold
or at a
temperature no more than
100 degrees F
Whether you can your maple syrup cold or at 100 degrees F. this is done
only after the syrup has been completely strained of all foreign
bodies, allowed to settle for a couple of hours until any
cloudiness has disappeared.
Pour the syrup into sterilized jars, making sure that any bubbles that
have formed have come to the top. You can encourage these to surface by
banging the bottom of the jar gently on the counter top, or by banging
the bottom of the jar with the palm of your hand.
Continue pouring the syrup into the jars until the liquid is at the top
of the necks of the bottle.
As long as you have expelled all the air bubbles and filled the bottles
to the very top with very little head space, your maple syrup will last
from one season to the next.
If you find that the syrup has fermented, you can change this by
boiling it up again, and skimming it. Then place back in new sterilized
Well, we hope that if you have some maple trees in your garden that you
will have a little fun with your kids and tap a couple of trees and
carry on the tradition of making maple syrup and sugar.
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