February in West Michigan begins maple syrup season. Also known as the month we eat a LOT of “brinner” (breakfast for dinner, for those of you not down with the cool kids lingo). This is our second year tapping the few mature maple trees on our property, and it’s already been a productive year. We have 6 trees tapped, two of them tapped twice. On a good day we can collect up to 5 gallons of sap. Last year, our first year tapping trees, we saw that 5 gallon bucket full and were elated. Hip hip hooray, maple syrup for days!((Cue screeching halt sound)) For those of you who don’t know, 5 gallons of sap, when boiled down, gives you roughly a pint (16oz.) of syrup. Now you understand why pure, rich, wonderful maple syrup from small producers costs more than you would pay in the grocery store. But, let me tell you, there is absolutely no beating really good quality syrup. High quality maple syrup has a variety of flavor notes, and those flavors even change throughout the season. Our first batch of syrup this year had an amazing vanilla taste to it, so tasty it took every bit of willpower in me not to just drink it straight up.
Here is where you can “Choose Your Path” in this story: if you’re super pumped about trying your hand at syrup making, read on for some simple, easy to follow instructions on tapping trees and making syrup. However, if you’re one like, “MMmmm….maple syrup. Where can I buy some local yummy goodness. Because a) I have no maple trees to tap or b) “Kristin, you’re crazy. Ain’t nobody got time for that”, then check the links on the bottom and in the Honey & Syrup tab. If you know of any other places to buy local syrup, use the CONTACT tab to contact me and I can add that business.
RECIPES: If your mouth is drooling thinking about pancakes, waffles and french toast, you should try out other recipes using maple syrup. Why use maple syrup just for breakfast when you can enjoy my yummy Balsamic Maple Vinaigrette over a fresh green salad, or add it to your stir fry sauce, for a sweet and salty stir fry everyone will love!
Tapping Maple Trees
Step One: Find yourself a handsome man with a fabulous beard, a drill, and a 7/16 drill bit to help you out. Okay, so maybe locating a bearded woodsman isn’t necessary, but it certainly is helpful. First step is to locate the maple trees you would like to tap. This process for us actually started in the fall when my husband spray painted a dot on each maple tree we wanted to tap, this way when the leaves fell, we would know which ones were the maples. The tree should be at least 12 inches in diameter to be tapped. If the tree is 21-27 inches in diameter, you can tap the tree twice. If you have a tree greater than 27 inches in diameter, first, give it a big ole hug because that tree has lived a long beautiful life. Second, you can tap that tree up to three times. The best time to start tapping trees is when the day time temperatures above freezing and the night time temperatures are below freezing. We started our trees in February, but I heard of some people beginning in January. It all depends on the weather in your area.
Step 2: Tap in the spile (tap). We found ours at Tractor Supply, or you can buy them here, Tap My Trees Spiles Pack.
Step 3: Hang your bags. Now this is where you can get creative. We chose to use Tap My Tree holders and bags. But there are many different ways to collect the sap. With this spile, you can hang a variety of small buckets. For trees that are big producers, or that you don’t have frequent access to, some use 5 gallon buckets with a hosing system. We chose to use the bags when we first began since we didn’t want to invest too much money, not knowing how our trees would produce. This also works given the trees are right in front of our house and it doesn’t take much effort to empty the bags daily. I quite enjoy the task, actually. Start small and you can always change up your method the following year.
Step 3: Collect the Sap. Some days we get 5 gallons or more of sap. Some days we get nothing. It all depends on the temperature and overall weather. I found using my handy dandy garden cart makes this chore easier as 5 gallons of liquid is quite heavy. I empty the bags right into the pot we are going to boil the sap down in. We have a refrigerator in our garage that I store the sap until we have enough to boil it down. Depending on the temperature, you could leave it outside. But then you risk critters and bugs getting in it. You should ideally boil the sap down within 7 days of collection.
Step 4: Boil Down the Sap. If you search the internet, there are a ton of different ways to accomplish this task. Traditionally this would be done in a “sugar shack”, over a fire, with the sap in a metal tray that allows the water to evaporate and leave behind the sugary delicious goodness we call syrup. Since we don’t have too many trees tapped, we use this set up (which also doubles as our setup for making pickles in the summer time). We use this canning pot for the job. Make sure you are using a pot that is suitable for such a high temperature. We also use a 5 gallon pot marketed for brewing beer (and yes, we also brew beer with it). Fire up that flame and watch it boil. For a long time. Like really. Make sure you have a few hours blocked out to tend to your pot.
Step 5: Wait for the syrup to be at the correct temperature We use a candy thermometer to check the temperature of the boiling sap. When it reaches above boiling (212degF) it is almost ready. We pull it off the heat when the thermometer reaches 217degF on the thermometer. You can let it go longer and reach a higher temperature, it will result in a thicker syrup. We left one batch on too long this year and it reached a texture that is more consistent with honey than syrup. It still tasted amazing!
Step 6: Filter the hot syrup. We like to keep items around that are multipurpose. For filtering, we use a canning funnel over a canning jar with filter paper . It’s best to filter the syrup when it’s hot, as it’s thinner and passes through the filter easier. There are many different kinds of filters on the market. Find something that works for you. This method works for us since we only process our syrup in small batches.
Step 7: Process/Store the syrup. How you process and store your syrup depends on preference and what you intend to do with the syrup. We keep one jar in the fridge for day to day use and we use small plastic containers to freeze the rest. If you are interested in processing your syrup to be shelf stable, especially if you intend to sell your syrup, I suggest checking out the MSU Extension website.
For Information on Buying from maple syrup producers local to West Michigan, click here or Click on the Honey &Syrup Tab on the top of the home screen.
This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase.