Sunday, December 16, 2012
Making Maple Syrup
Several species of maple trees grow in North America. Though all
produce sap suitable for the production of maple syrup, two species
of sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and black maple (A. nigrum), are the
source of sap for most commercial maple production. Sap suitable for
conversion into syrup may also be obtained from red and silver
maples, though such sap usually has a lower sugar content.
Sugar maple is a common tree throughout most of eastern North
America. In addition to its use for sap production, sugar maple is a
valuable tree for lumber and is used extensively in fine furniture,
It has been widely planted as a shade and ornamental tree.
Maple syrup can be produced with a minimum of equipment, but a few
standard items increase the efficiency of the operation and the
quality of the product:
1. A drill with a 7/16- or 1/2-inch bit for drilling tap-holes in
2. A metal or plastic collection spout for each tap-hole.
3. A collection container (bucket or plastic bag) or tubing line for
4. A large pan and a heat source for boiling down the sap. The size
needed will depend on how much sap you intend to handle.
5. A large-scale thermometer calibrated at least 15 degrees above
the boiling point of water.
6. Wool, orlon or other filters for filtering finished syrup while
7. Storage facilities and containers for the finished syrup.
TAPPING THE TREE
To obtain the earliest runs of sap, tapping should be completed by
the middle of February. Minimal trunk diameter for trees suitable
for tapping is 10 inches at 4 feet above the ground.
To tap a tree, select a spot on the trunk of the tree 2 to 4 feet
above the ground in an area that appears to contain sound wood. At
this point, drill a hole approximately 2 to 2.5 inches deep into the
wood. Then insert a collection spout (spile) and tap lightly into
the tree, and attach a bucket or plastic bag or a tubing line to the
spout. Open buckets used for sap collection should be covered to
keep out rainwater, debris, insects and other foreign materials.
COLLECTING THE SAP
Sap flow in maple trees will not occur every day throughout the
tapping season. It occurs when a rapid warming trend in early to
midmorning follows a cool (below freezing) night. Thus, the amount
of sap produced varies from day to day. Normally, a single tap-hole
produces from a quart to a gallon of sap per flow period (from a few
hours to a day or more), with a seasonal accumulation of 10 to 12
gallons per tap-hole likely.
To produce high quality syrup, sap collections should be made as
required, not exceeding every two or three days. If this is not
possible, collections obtained from prolonged flow periods should be
stored and processed separately. During periods of rather low
temperatures and under favorable storage conditions, sap may be kept
four or five days without reducing syrup quality.
The amount of sap required to produce a gallon of maple syrup
varies, depending on its sugar concentration. Sap averages
approximately 2 percent sugar. At this concentration, 43 gallons of
sap are required to produce 1 gallon of syrup. If the sap contains a
higher sugar concentration, less sap will be required
Producing maple syrup is essentially a matter of concentrating the
sugar solution to a predetermined level through evaporation. Heat is
used to concentrate the sap and to develop the characteristic maple
color and flavor that make maple syrup so highly desirable.
In large commercial operations, a continuous feed evaporation
process is used. That is, the evaporation pan is arranged so that
sap may be continuously added and syrup drawn off. In smaller
operations, a "batch" approach is used. The evaporation pan is
filled with sap and sap is added as necessary to replace that lost
by evaporation. When a suitable amount of concentrated sap is
present, the pan is "finished-off" to produce syrup of the correct
To begin evaporation, fill the evaporating container (preferably a
large shallow pan) with sap. Begin heating the sap to the boiling
point, taking care not to burn or scorch the sap. (A Teflon-coated
pan is ideal.) As evaporation lowers the level of sap in the pan,
add more sap. Continue this process until most of the sap in the pan
is highly concentrated and the boiling point of the sap begins to
rise above the boiling point of water.
Throughout this process, it may be necessary occasionally to skim
the surface of the boiling liquid to remove surface foam and other
materials. Finished syrup boils at 7 degrees above the boiling point
of water. As the temperature of the boiling sap approaches this
point, boiling should be carefully controlled to prevent burning and
Once the desired boiling point has been reached, the syrup is ready
for filtering and packaging. Hot syrup should be filtered through a
suitable filter of wool or orlon to remove suspended particles, such
as sugar sand, and improve the appearance of the syrup. After
filtering, the syrup should be packaged, also while hot. A
temperature of at least 180 degrees F is necessary to prevent
spoiling while in storage.
OTHER MAPLE PRODUCTS
Maple syrup may be used as is, of course, or it may be converted
into other highly desirable products. Maple sugar, maple candy and
maple fudge are just a few of the many other maple products.
Basically, these are made by concentrating finished syrup to a
greater density and stirring the highly concentrated syrup. Recipes
for a variety of maple products may be obtained by contacting the
local county Extension office. (or by writing to the Department of
Forestry at Michigan State University, or some of the other main
Maple Sugaring States).
Maple syrup and sugar are among the oldest agricultural commodities
produced in the United States. Native Americans are generally
credited with discovering how to convert maple sap into maple syrup.
The importance of maple products for local trade was established
well before the arrival of the first European settlers in North
America. Maple syrup production is confined to the northeastern
portion of the United States, with the largest amounts produced in
Vermont and New York. Until rather recently, maple syrup and sugar
have been strictly a "sideline" farm crop; however, the production
of maple syrup and other maple products is often a full-time
operation. Maple syrup is one agricultural crop in which there is no
surplus. In fact, demand far exceeds the available supply. The
industry is not expanding, even though less than 1 percent of the
potential resource is being used.
I have been told that the Pacific Bigleaf Maple in the PNW will also
produce Maple Syrup, but the sugar content is lower and therefore
larger amounts of sap will be needed, maybe up to double of that
from the Sugar Maples. I think it is something like a 40 to 1 or a
50 to one for the Birches.
http://www.massmaple.org/myo.html (this one says to use elderberry..DONT!!!!! Elderberry bark, leaves and seeds are TOXIC!)
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