Last year, I decided I didn’t have nearly enough to do in my life and wanted to add something new…collecting sap to make maple syrup.*
So, I bought a “maple syruping at home” kit and read a couple things, Googled a few things, and jumped in.
Despite the overt cynicism of those who know me best, I was pretty sure I could identify a maple tree, and pretty sure we had three on our property – a sugar maple, a silver maple, and a black maple. Admittedly, the skepticism regarding my abilities made me doubt myself just a teeny little bit…but nothing resolves anxieties like Wikipedia, and I maintained my outward confidence and pushed on.
At the end of winter, as temperatures are beginning to pass above freezing for hours at a time, the sap begins to “run.”
First, a hole is drilled into the side of the tree with a gigantic drill bit, deep enough that the “tap” you shove into the hole won’t fall out when the 2-gallon bucket hanging from it has the weight of all 2 gallons of sap pulling on it. For me and my drill and my three taps (my maple trees are large enough to have more than one tap a piece, but my kit came with three set-ups), this requires multiple battery charges, a few blisters, a curse word or eight, and a lot of sweating under my winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves.
Next is waiting. At the beginning, when the temperature maybe every once in awhile creeps two degrees above freezing for half an hour, there’s a few drops in each bucket. Then there’s a whole cup in the bucket.
I started saving empty milk cartons during the wait to be able to collect the sap in. I wasn’t sure how many to collect, but thought four would probably be more than enough. The sap can stay fresh refrigerated for a week before it has to be boiled down, which works perfectly for weekend boiling.
Four milk cartons were way more than enough for the first few weeks when some days I collected a few cups, but most days got nothing at all. As it crept into March, I would sometimes get a whole gallon in just a day, maybe even two! How exciting! Imagine the quantity of syrup I could make!
The estimate is about 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup, except for sugar maples which is closer to 20 to one or so…but really, how much syrup does one family need!? The small bottles (that sell in
stores for 8 bucks a pop), are a pint. Two cups. So, for every two gallons collected, I could fill one of those babies up. I was imagining all the various friends and relatives I could pass syrup out to as birthday gifts, housewarming presents, baby shower gifts… I bought pretty bottles for all those lucky people.
Then one day, I got 5 gallons. The next, 6. Then 7. Gallons. 7 gallons. In one day. And one bucket was overflowing. I had 8 gallons stored in the fridge, 6 gallons in coolers in the garage, and 5 gallons boiling over the firepit at any point. It takes a couple days of boiling over a well-tended fire to go from 5 gallons of sap to 2 pints of syrup.
I moved on from boiling sap on weekends to boiling in every spare moment. To adding more logs before I
went to bed and rekindling the fire first thing in the morning.
I added neighbors and passing acquaintances to the list of happy recipients.
I moved on from pretty glass bottles with maple leaves on their caps to glass salad dressing bottles…to ketchup bottles and vodka bottles.
I was about to start chugging the sap from the milk jugs just to save myself from the boiling of it.
And then the trees bloomed. Tiny little green buds on the tips of their branches so high up no one else had bothered to notice yet. But to me, it meant sapping time was over.
I was still sad to see it come to an end.
But mostly, I have a lot more respect for the tiny $8 bottle of pure maple syrup I see on shelves of local shops and gift stores now.
*In a previous life, so long ago I’m pretty sure I just dreamt it, I used to special order maple syrup from a company in Virginia I once visited with my mother, but once I had kids, it was an expense I could no longer justify…and then for years, Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth settled in to their Log Cabin to make me maple-flavored goop until I had this brilliant plan to make it all on my own!
This post was written by Penney Blakely. Contact Penney at email@example.com
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