Maple Syrup Time Again

Even though day 1 of spring is officially tomorrow, we had a prelude to a spring a couple of weeks ago and as a consequence we have already made 101 litres of maple syrup. I know. That’s a lot of pancakes. But apparently we need more, so I’m heading out shortly to check the lines and collect sap. Before I do that though, I’ll give you a bit of an overview of the operation – purely hobby, by the way, so some of my methods / tools may be a bit questionable to a pro. (And if you work for the CFIA, stop reading this now, because I only sell syrup to friends and family. Thanks very much. Goodbye.)

We (ok, my brother) tapped in mid February this year. It’s a bit of a risky move, because your tapped holes can dry up if there is a long freeze in between runs. We He went for it. He’d collect and boil in the day, I’d come home from work and finish the boil. We’d try to do finishes together, but it didn’t always work out. (Of course, in the March break, when I had LOTS of time to boil and finish, it didn’t run.)

Let me take you through the process with the help of some photos I’ve taken over the years. 

When we’re ready to tap the lines they are already hanging from the trees since we leave them up year round. There is usually some damage to the lines – the deer sometimes like a nibble – so fixing the lines is often necessary. 

tap and fix
We generally fix and tap at the same time, working our way up the line. Hot water, extra tubing and taps are necessary, as is the handy and very sharp knife. 

Tapping takes a day or two – we tap about 300 trees … and several trees have more than one tap. Most taps are connected to tubing (various colours). We do have 20 or so buckets that we use around the house where I don’t want to hang tubing. I can also ask visitors to collect sap from the buckets. It keeps them happy. 

drilling
You need to drill on a slight upward angle. Tony’s a pro.
tapping
Vintage photo of Liam putting the tap into the freshly drilled hole. Afterwards it is hammered in. 
spile
The spile has a wee trough, a hook and a hole for the lid pin to go through. Clever.
After you hang the bucket on the spile you have to attach the lid with a long metal pin. It’s a bit tricky.
drip
Once the tree has been tapped and the spile hammered in, the sap runs immediately.

The tubing runs downhill and into jerry cans that collect the sap. These were a brilliant choice by my dad as the tubing fits perfectly into the vent hole.

saplines
We stretch the lines starting at the bottom of the line, tapping as we go, and raising the line up the trees so that the sap can run easily down the line and into the container.

We collect the sap by exchanging the full cans with empty ones. They conveniently fit in the back of the gator. Clever, eh? 

gator
Cousin Tim jets around to collect. There’s a job for everyone!
night
If the temperature stays warm the sap will run at night. So we collect at night. The coyotes can freak you out a bit…

The sap is then transferred into big stainless steel containers. We have about 400 gallons of storage space. 

sap
The sap is poured through the first of many filters.

Once we have enough sap to boil, we light up the fire in the sugar shack and feed the sap down through handy pipes. 

shack
You can see the pipes go into the shack right under the obligatory OMSPA sign.

The procedure in the sugar shack is pretty basic. Boil the hell out of the sap until all that’s left is syrup, then filter it and bottle it. The machinery is pretty spectacular though! 

pans
These lovely pans make incredible syrup. They’re made in Quebec by the pros.

The slow work is feeding the fire, skimming the foam, checking the levels and collecting more sap. As it boils down we pull small batches into the finishing pan which sits beside the evaporator pans. Once we have enough to finish (around 26 litres), we light up the propane under finishing pan and prepare to do a “finish”. 

skimming
As the sap boils in the upper evaporator pan, we skim off any foam that builds up.
fire
Keeping the boil high is important. We have varying theories on the best way to achieve this. I am right of course.
filter
Once the syrup sap reaches a certain temperature in the lower evaporator pans we pull it off, filtering it as we do so into the finishing pan. This is the second filtering. It’s critical. See the sediment?

This final part is the art of it all. The syrup is boiled in the finishing pan until a certain temperature is reached. This stage of the work involves beautiful caramel bubbles, measuring the Brix (sugar content) with the hydrotherm and taking it off at just the right time. The syrup is poured through its final set of filters as it goes into the bottling pan. 

If you boil the syrup too long and the sugar content is just too high, the syrup will crystallize. Even though it’s pretty and can be used to teach Grade 4 kids in their rocks & minerals unit, it’s a waste of syrup and very disheartening. I’ve become better at finishing now, so I haven’t had crystals in a few years. 

These are my sample bottles that sit in the window. One sample for each finish. The crystals formed within a month.

Making maple syrup is a LONG process. Fun fact: it takes 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup. That’s why it’s a labour of love, and why I’ll smack you if I ever see you leaving maple syrup on your plate. 

3 thoughts on “Maple Syrup Time Again

  1. Hey Janice – I really enjoyed this! I had no idea about the filtering process – what an incredible amount of work.
    I would love to buy some syrup from you if I may! It would taste extra special knowing you made it!
    love Nicola

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