The weekend of the 20th, we began boiling down our maple sap. Our first set up was a simple stock pot over our propane turkey fryer, and it stayed that way for another week
We kept boiling in the single stock pot, adding sap whenever it got low. We turned it off at night, but otherwise kept it going all day, every day from Sunday the 22nd until this past Friday the 27th. We went through 15 gallons of propane. The trees were producing sap at a prodigious rate, so we struggled to keep track of the total number of gallons we went through, but we’re guessing in the end we collected over 50 gallons total, and put maybe 25 into the first batch. Our neighbor also offered to let us put a tap in his maple, so long as he got a jar of syrup. At one point, the buckets were filling up over night, being emptied first thing in the morning, and then being emptied twice more during the day. The weather that week really was perfect- mid-40s into the 50s during the day, dips to freezing at night.
Thursday the 26th, we brought the syrup inside to finish briefly on the stove, and bottle. However, due to poor temperature control, and the extended boil time on this first batch, it came out exceptionally dark. If we were a commercial set up, this would not be graded for human consumption, though there’s nothing actually wrong with it. Maple syrup grading is just exceptionally finicky. I think the first batch is a wonderful bittersweet, and I’ve taken to calling it maple molasses.
The second batch began Friday morning. Matt picked up 3 additional stock pots, and we prepared to go on a maple syrup boiling bender over the weekend. We kept the burner outside going, and put 3 pots of sap inside, reserving the fourth burner for finishing. Using a candy thermometer clipped to the outside pot, and a standard meat thermometer inside (I really, really want one of those infrared remote thermometers now), we carefully monitored this batch’s temperature. Checking on it every 30-60 minutes or so, we kept the syrup in the 200-210 degree range. While the volume in the pots was high immediately after putting in fresh sap, we were fine with the temp climbing to 210, but once the volume dropped by about half, we kept it much more carefully at 200. The higher concentration of sugar meant it was more likely to scorch, likely causing bitter flavors like the first batch.
In addition to monitoring the temperature more closely, we did not blend this batch until all the stock pots were reduced by about 80-90% in volume (roughly 2-4 inches of liquid at the bottom of the pot & a light golden color). In this way, we hoped to further prevent scorching, since the sugars would not be concentrated, then diluted, then concentrated, etc.
I’m writing this late Sunday afternoon, and we were not able to keep the outside burner going today, due to some pretty heavy sleet and freezing rain (ah, Spring time!). We brought it inside, and had all four burners on the stove cranking. We also blended all four pots of the second batch into the finishing pot, boiled them down further (still at 200F), until it was darker in color, and the bubbles moved sluggishly to the surface. It went into pint jars, and came out much more purely sweet, and lighter in color.
The third batch is currently on the stove, and there’s 2-3 more stock pots worth of sap left in the 30 gallon barrel on my porch. Sugar season has just about run its course- this past week was chilly, barely breaking freezing each day, and dipping well below freezing at night, slowing the sap flow quite a bit (freezing up the spiles, most nights). Monday and all of this coming week is supposed to jump up into the 60s, which may mean increased flow for a day or two, but the trees will be budding out soon, and buddy sap means bad flavors in the syrup.
Overall yield has been surprisingly high. The ratios I read for sugar maples (ours are silver maples) said 35:1 or 40:1. Silver maples, red & black maples, and box elders are all supposed to be toward the higher end of that ratio- 40:1 or more. We’ve gotten well over a gallon of syrup already (about a gallon and 3/4), and have boiled down about 40 gallons total. This is a very pleasant surprise.
We’ve decided that in the future, we’ll invest in some heavy-duty, industrial hotel pans- the big pans you see in steam trays at buffets. The higher surface area will mean faster boiling. We’ve also learned why this was traditionally done outside or in a well ventilated building. Every window in our house looks like this (39F outside isn’t helping)