Jeff Green | Mar 25, 2010
Editorial by Jeff Green
There are some pretty complicated setups for making maple syrup. Professional producers often talk about vacuums and osmosis and sugar percentages and the like.
But at its root maple syrup is very basic. All a person has to do is gather sap and then boil and boil and boil until it turns into syrup.
You might say, any fool can make maple syrup.
That's where we come in at the Frontenac News. We know all about being fools. You might say it's a preoccupation of ours.
So here is our primer on the ten most common errors in maple syrup production, as tested by our staff.
Do not bother tapping Elm trees, or Oak trees for that matter. I personally tap the same Elm tree every year. I see the hole from the previous year and figure it must be a Maple. It never runs. One day, perhaps, Elm trees will start producing sweet sap. I'll let everyone know when that happens
Make sure that before you drill a hole you have a spile and a bucket to go with it. Just drilling holes and watching the sap drip onto the ground is considered to be arborial cruelty, even if the tree is not in any real danger.
Check your sap buckets periodically to see if they have holes in them. They don't work as well when they have a leak. (Hint: If you find that some trees don't seem to be producing even if they are always dripping when you check the buckets, a leaky bucket may be the problem. Just tip the bottom of the bucket skyward over your head to see if any light gets through – it helps to make sure the bucket is completely empty before doing this.
You will need some system of storing sap – a holding tank or bins of some sort -something that isn't too “tippy”.
The next section concerns the most precarious stage in production, the boiling itself.
Drinking sap as a spring tonic is perfectly acceptable, but the practice of bathing in the syrup early in the boiling process is to be discouraged among all members of the family, no matter how old or young they may be. Tends to harm the finished product. Gamey, smoky and sharp are not the kind of adjectives you want people to use when describing the taste of your syrup.
It is recommended that whatever kind of pan you use to boil down the sap, it would be best if the pan does not leak, again for obvious reasons. However, if it leaks at one end, that end can be raised so the sap does not leak out. Be sure the heat does not build up over the dry, leaky, end however. Smoky syrup, anyone?
You can boil down syrup using wood, oil, electricity, or propane, and as everyone knows, 25-50 litres of water needs to be boiled off the sap to produce a single litre of syrup. People have been known to wander off during a boil, or to fall asleep during a boil. This is not recommended, for two reasons 1) burnt syrup, (this is beyond smoky) and 2) burnt house.
Be very careful when the sap has been reduced down to near syrup. There are various ways to tell whether the syrup is done. There is temperature (when the temperature begins to approach the 219 degree Fahrenheit, 104 degree Celsius mark); there is the two-drips-off-the-spoon technique, and there is the sheeting-on-the-spoon technique. Unfortunately none of these techniques work. It has something to do with the sea level. One thing is certain, when the syrup is bottled and huge crystals develop that cling to the glass, the syrup has been overcooked.
Do not - I repeat - do not, leave the finished syrup laying around in a finishing pan in your kitchen or back room for three or four months uncovered before getting around to bottling it. Unlike blue cheese and some dessert wines, introducing different kinds of mould to syrup is not a good idea. Funky is not an adjective you want to be applied to your syrup
When the season is all done and the trees go into bud, do not leave the pails and spiles in the trees. Whatever sap that is left in the buckets will ferment; the spiles will be harder and harder to remove, and the buckets will take on an aroma that may lead next year's syrup to be as bad as this year’s.