We've tapped our maple trees and are busy cooking it all down for our annual supply of maple syrup. Each spring, the maple sap starts running. Here at our homestead we're able to gather just enough to supply us with maple syrup for the year.
The sap runs for the few weeks to couple of months during which we have freezing nights but above-freezing days. The taps are set into new holes drilled each year and then bags hung to capture the dripping sap. It takes between thirty and forty gallons of sap to yield one gallon of maple syrup. We usually get between 1 1/2 and 2 gallons of finished syrup.
Once you've gathered the sap you've got to boil it down. The first year we did this I boiled the sap on the kitchen stove. This is really slow and, as you can imagine, steaming off more than thirty gallons of water into your house is not exactly ideal.
The next two years I boiled the sap over a propane burner outdoors. Better, quicker, but still rather expensive from a fuel standpoint. Since wood is readily available and cheap around here, that's the real fuel of choice.
The last two years I've boiled on a homemade setup fabricated from a 55 gallon steel barrel fitted with legs, an exhaust pipe, and a cast iron door. I cut a hole in the top of the barrel, plopped in a stainless steel pan, and made a roaring fire in the barrel. The bottom of the pan is in direct contact with the fire and sap flows into the pan from a suspended coffee can with a small hole. This allows the sap to boil more or less continuously while replenishing the liquid lost.
You've got to tend the fire and watch the level regularly. I unfortunately burned the first batch this year by letting it boil down too far; I was inside doing the taxes and was alerted to my gaff by billows of sickly sweet smelling smoke wafting across my place (I wonder if I can deduct the loss?)
After we boil the sap most of the way down we finish it on the kitchen stove, where we measure its sugar level with a special hydrometer (to know when it's done) and then pour it, boiling hot, into mason jars to be sealed and stored in the cellar for the year. Aunt Jemima was probably a very nice woman, but believe me her product is junk compared to God's own real maple syrup.
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