Making maple syrup in your backyard: Part 2

In many areas of Michigan, March is often a great time to tap trees to make your own maple syrup. In the second of a two-part series, MSU Extension offers a few tips on boiling and preserving sap to make quality maple syrup.

This is Part 2, of a two-part series on making maple syrup in your own backyard. For Part 1, which covered tree selection, the tapping process and the collection of sap, click here

March is maple syrup season in many parts of Michigan. Because sugar maple trees abound in Michigan, many people are tempted from time to time to try and tap their own maple trees and make their own maple syrup. Here are a few tips about boiling down maple sap into finished syrup that will make backyard syrup producers seem like a professional with this natural resource enterprise.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. So you need a lot of sap to make maple syrup. But sap will spoil (it gets cloudy and off-tasting) if it is left too long in storage. So use your judgment as to when you should start boiling based on these facts. It is possible to boil down sap into partial batches of syrup. These semi-finished batches usually will store better than raw sap. Then, several batches can be combined to complete the boiling into finished syrup.

One of the most difficult pieces of equipment for most backyard syrup makers to find is a good pan for boiling. An ideal pan will be wide and shallow, as this allows the sap to spread out in the pan and expose more surface area to evaporation. It is best to boil down most of the sap outdoors over an open fire rather than indoors in the kitchen because such a tremendous amount of steam is produced during evaporation -- it can literally peel wallpaper off a kitchen wall.

A hot fire that causes the surface of the sap to ripple and roil during the boiling process creates the fastest amount of evaporation. Therefore, keep the fire well-stoked with different sizes of firewood to keep the fire burning at peak combustion. Finished syrup boils at 219 degrees F, which is 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. As the sap boils down, the sugars in the sap begin to caramelize (creating a golden color) and the watery sap begins to get thicker.

Depending on size of a backyard operation, it can take all day to boil down 15-20 or more gallons of sap. It also requires a lot of firewood. The rule-of-thumb for commercial producers is that one cord of firewood will produce 25 gallons of finished syrup (using a commercial evaporator).

As rapid evaporation starts to occur, keep a keen eye on the boiling as to not burn the syrup pan. As syrup increases in density, much of the liquid begins to form a frothy set of bubbles in the evaporator pan. As this starts to occur, the sap/syrup mix begins to lift off the bottom of the pan and the pan can get scorched from lack of moisture on the pan surface. To avoid this, pull nearly finished syrup off of the outdoor fire and finish it off on either a kitchen stove or on a camp stove where the amount of heat can be precisely controlled.

Once the syrup is done, the hot syrup should be filtered through cheesecloth or an orlon filter (purchased from maple syrup equipment suppliers). Filtering strains out the mineral precipitate (known as sugar sand) as well as any other foreign particles, such as wood ash that falls into the syrup during boiling. Finished syrup can be stored in canning jars or clean, previously used maple syrup jugs. Syrup should be stored in a cool location or can be refrigerated or even frozen to preserve it for longer periods of time.

Maple syrup is a totally pure and natural product that can be made at home and enjoyed in many ways besides just pancakes and waffles. Use maple syrup as a sweetener in many of your cooking recipes at home.

For more information, Extension Bulletin E-2617, “Homemade Maple Syrup” can be purchased from the MSU Extension Bookstore at:

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