If you’re lucky enough to have maples in your yard, this is a super fun and super easy late winter/early spring activity! It only requires a few relatively inexpensive supplies and it’s a fun way to get outside before the weather really allows for it.
Here’s what you need:
- Taps or spiles. You can pick these up at your local Fleet Farm or order them on Amazon. You can put one in each tree that is bigger than 17″ in diameter and two in larger trees.
- Buckets or collection bags. I got mine at Fleet Farm. You can use whatever buckets or vessels you have on hand but make sure it’s covered. Some people run a length of tubing off the tap down into a bucket on the ground.
- Some kind of large covered bucket to store sap in until you’re ready to cook it.
- A big pot.
- Not necessary but definitely preferable: someplace to cook outside.
When the weather starts to turn in February/March and you get the feeling that winter might actually end someday, it’s time to start thinking about tapping. The pressure changes that happen when it freezes at night and gets above freezing during the day are what causes the sap to start flowing. A forecast like this when you should be getting ready!
Here is how to tap it:
- Drill a hole about 2″ deep with a drill bit that is just a tiny bit skinnier than your tap. I put a piece of tape on the bit so I could tell how far I was in.
- Give it a little tappy: tap tap tapperoo that thing in there with a hammer.
- Hang your collection bags or buckets.
- Wait impatiently and check your bags compulsively.
You can see a few inches of sap in the bottom of the bag. In previous years, I’ve gotten a TON of sap right away. This year, it was a pretty slow flow, but I ended getting a little over six gallons of sap. I collected in 5 gallon buckets until I was ready to boil it down.
The first year I did this, as I mentioned, I had a TON of sap. I made the mistake of cooking this TON of sap inside my house, in the winter. I literally made CLOUDS inside my house because I had to crack a window to let the steam out. I also ruined my stove when the pot boiled over and I got sticky syrup not only all over the cooktop, but down inside the oven and into the warming drawer below. Also. I started a fire.
Since I’ve learned things the hard way, this year, I will cook outside. My mom has a little single burner cooktop so I borrowed that for the occasion.
Here is my sap.
You will probably have some bugs, dirt, tree debris, etc. in your buckets so run it through a fine filter. I’m using a flour sack type towel supported by a mesh colander.
Make sure you sample the goods =)
Allow the pot to come to a boil. Add more sap every time you see the level get down a few inches. Lucky for me, this burner times out after a few hours so even if I forgot about it out there the chances of me boiling over or down too low were pretty slim!
This is reduced by about 50%. You can see it is starting to get some color as the sugars are caramelizing. You will notice some scum on the top and lots of sediment building up on the sides of the pot and collecting in the bottom. If it gets out of hand you can scoop it off, otherwise don’t worry about it, you’ll filter again before you finish it.
You can imagine that six gallons of steam collecting in your kitchen could possibly be a bad thing 😉
Here is the final boil down. Once I got it mostly condensed, I filtered it again in the same way as above into a clean pot and finished it up in the house. Watch it carefully at this stage though because if you go too far it will start to crystallize and me a major pain to deal with. Or it will start on fire. Also not good.
I stopped boiling when it looked syrupy…not very scientific.
If you end up with lots of syrup you might want to get a hygrometer or a specific gravity meter to make sure your sugar content is high enough to preserve the syrup without fermentation. In this case, I’m only ending up with about a quart so it will be gone before it has a chance to ferment. If you’ve got a lot, you can can it in jars to save for the future.
One more trip through the flour sack and into a bottle et voilà!