In the fall we made preparations for making gallons and gallons of our own pure maple syrup. We marked enough trees for 50 taps while the leaves were still visible, insuring that we wouldn't accidentally tap a pine tree or a phone pole =). We have good friends who successfully tapped their trees and had given us good advice and encouragement.
This coming full moon (March 19th) is known in The Farmers Almanac as "the Maple Moon" as it marks the perfect time to tap your trees. Of course, this little tip only works in Canada and the far Northeast, not Tennessee! I called our friends for some advice on tapping in early February, and found that they had already tapped their trees and were boiling down their sap! We were already far behind schedule. What Rookies!
Most of the delay came from the sudden panic that came from realizing how much sap we could potentially collect. After getting our metal taps on Ebay, and getting our buckets online, we realized that if each tap produced a mild 2 gallons of sap, that we would have 100 gallons to store and boil down. We had no place to put that much, let alone a vessel to cook it. It took us some creative "out of budget" spending to find and rush 4 stainless steel rectangle pots, 1 foot x 2 feet x 15 inches tall. When placed side-by-side, these fit perfectly on the top of our wood stove, and would work well outside on a fire-pit too.
Finally, once we had all of our tools, and the perfect plan...the weather warmed up in a huge way. Instead of the FREEZING nights and chilly days, we suddenly (in February) had t-shirt weather at night, and days as warms as 70 degrees during the day. Tree tapping requires really cold nights and days no warmer than 50 degrees (at least ideally). After 2 weeks of this early Spring, we finally had ONE day where the weather was remotely close to ideal.
Under the imperfect conditions, we opted to tap only 3 trees. The taps went in perfectly, but as I was preparing the bucket, I noticed a label on the bottom...warning that to wash my hands after handling the bucket as it was made with cancer causing chemicals. So much for cheap buckets on the internet. We managed to scrounge up 3 food-grade buckets from our pantry and used those instead.
The next challenge was the wind. For every two precious drops that fell from the tap, one blew horizontally and missed the huge target completely. Plus, all kinds of schmutz fell into the bucket, including more than a few ants. I ran out to the hardware store, and came back with 3 1-foot sections of 1-inch hose to run from the tap itself directly into a hole cut into the lid. Overnight, we collected nearly 4 gallons of sap from our three buckets. The sap was schmutz-free and was a subtle carmel color. After running it through some cloth to filter it further, we were finally ready to boil it down.
For those of you expecting free samples of our tasty finished product, you must realize that 4 gallons of sap needs to boil down to 1/40th of its volume to remove the water and intensify the flavor. The process took several hours, as we transferred the liquid to smaller and smaller pots. At last our finished product was ready to taste...it was indeed yummy. We finished it after just 2 pancake breakfasts.
We are really excited about doing it "for real" next year.
This post was shared at Barn Hop #4