Picture a cold, bright day in February. Temperatures rise above freezing during the day but dip below freezing at night, a sure sign to maple sugarers that it’s time to tap the trees!
The sap of a sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) is 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar—and it is that 2 percent that will yield a delicious sweetener. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, and it is simply by boiling the sap to remove water and thus concentrate the sugar that makes maple syrup.
Here's how that delicious maple syrup makes it from tree sap to the sweet breakfast ambrosia on your plate!
Identify a stand of sugar maples. Pro tip: mark sugar maple trees before they lose their leaves in the fall, since identifying the trees by their leaves is much easier than identifying solely by the bark.
On the south side of the tree, drill a 3-inch hole about 4 feet above the ground at a slight upward angle. Use a 7/16-inch drill bit. Use a hammer to gently tap in a spile, or spout. You can tap one spile for every 10 inches of tree diameter.
Hang collection containers from the spiles. Coffee cans, milk jugs and buckets all work well for this.
Drip, drip, drip! Sap will fill the bucket as pressure builds in the tree from the alternating freeze and thaw temperatures.
Boil the sap indoors on a stovetop or outdoors over a fire. At Heifer Farm, we use a large-scale evaporator in a sugar house.
Sap is officially maple syrup when it reads 66 percent sugar content on a hydrometer or 219 degrees on a candy thermometer.
Strain the hot syrup through felt or cheesecloth. Bottle the syrup while it’s hot, or can it in a boiling water bath for longer storage. Store at room temperature in a cool, dark location or in the refrigerator or freezer.
Enjoy on pancakes, waffles and French toast. Real maple syrup is also great for sweetening beverages and flavoring salad dressing, vegetables, meat and baked goods.