Saturday, April 12, 2014

Making Maple Syrup - Our Fourth Boil - April 11, 2014

Below is our log for our fourth week of sap collecting.

April 7 - 55 cups.  Weather:  High +15.6°C, low 0°C
April 8 - Rain storm.  Dumped sap out.  Weather:  High +11.5°C, low +4.7°C
April 9 - No sap - didn't go below zero last night.  Weather:  High +10.9°C, low +2.2°C
April 10 - 104 cups.  Weather:  High +7°C, low -4.1°C
April 11 - 29.5 cups.  Weather:  High +13.4°C, low +2.9°C

The grand total for our next boil was 188.5 cups, or 11.78 gallons.

This is what the sap looks like at the start of the boil:

And this is what it looks like after five or six hours of boiling:

We boiled for 7 hours, and since we didn't get started until the afternoon it went into the evening.  I ran an extension cord out to the sugar shack so we could put a lamp out there.  It ended up being about midnight by the time we got it bottled.

To save money, Jeff and I have improvised on a lot of materials used for making maple syrup.  The tall thin glass container in the center of the picture is a Bios tea infuser, bought at Canadian Tire for around $11.00.  It is double-walled glass, and works perfectly as a hydrometer cup.

Since we make small batches of syrup each time, we have used our stainless steel coffee percolator to filter the syrup into.  This makes for easy pouring into the funnel for the bottles.

The syrup is almost ready.  It is supposed to be ready at 220°F, but I think our thermometer is not calibrated properly because when we brought it to 220 and tested it with the hydrometer, the syrup is not dense enough and has to be boiled longer.  Through trial and error and a few hydrometer readings, we have found that when it reads 221 and starts to jump to 222 that it is done.  For a properly calibrated thermometer however this would be over-done.

The minimum density for the syrup is 59.6 brix at 211°F.  In the photo below the red line represents 59.6 brix.  It has cooled a bit more in this photo, which makes it more dense.  I have a chart that gives the brix reading according to certain temperatures and we like it a bit more than the minimum density.  Below is the final hydrometer test and I'm satisfied it is now dense enough for bottling.

To ensure proper sterilization the syrup must be bottled at a temperature of no less than 180°F.  I try to aim for 185°F.  At about 190°F niter (or sugar sand) will re-form and the syrup will need to be filtered again so we want to make sure that doesn't happen.  You lose a lot of syrup through the filtering process.

I put my bottles and coffee percolator in the oven at 200°F.  That way when we transfer the syrup from the finishing pot to the percolator the temperature drop is minimized.  The filtering takes some time however and the temperature will usually drop below 180°F.  So once the filtering is complete, I put the percolator back in the oven with the thermometer in it and bring it back up to 185°F.  Then I pour it into the bottles, and lay the bottles on their sides for a few minutes to sterilize the caps.  This sterile bottling method means the syrup will keep for about a year if unopened.  Once opened it will keep in the fridge for about six months.

Syrup that is not brought to the minimum density will spoil, and mold can form in the neck of the bottles where there is a small pocket of air.  This can also happen if the syrup is not bottled in a sterile manner as described above.  If the syrup is too dense, sugar crystallization will occur.

Below is is our produce from our fourth boil, 3 1/2 cups of syrup.

Below are samples of our syrup from our second, third and fourth boils.  The syrup gets darker as the season progress.

The temperatures are remaining above zero quite often now so we're not sure if we will be having another boil.  The sap goes "buddy" once the trees start to metabolize the sugar, which produces a very unpleasant bitter taste.  Since we are new to this I don't know if we'll be able to smell or taste the "buddyness" in the sap.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Making Maple Syrup - Our Third Boil - April 6, 2014

Below is our log for our third week of sap collecting.

April 1 - Ice storm - never got above zero.  No sap collection.  Weather:  High -1.7°C, low -3.7°C
April 2 - Did not collect today as the sap was slow.  Weather:  High +3.7°C, low -3.9°C
April 3 - 59.5 cups + thawed sap previously frozen of 11.5 cups.  Weather:  High +6.2°C, low -0.9°C
April 4 - 86 cups.  Weather:  High +10°C, low -0.5°C
April 5 - 86.25 cups.  Weather:  High +5.4°C, low -0.6°C
April 6 - 17.75 cups.  Weather:  Cold and windy (W and NW wind).  High +5.3°C, low -0.8°C

The grand total for our next boil was 261 cups, or 16.3 gallons.

Here is Mother Nature's idea of an April Fools joke:

Wicked ice storm on April 1st and our backyard Norway Maple lost a few limbs.  A big one hit the clothesline on the way down and pulled the clothesline support out of the house.  Anyway, back to the sugar shack.  The orange bin is our sap storage container, and it has to be kept cool or it will spoil so we pack it with snow.  Packed like this it will be good for about a week.

On April 4th our new sap hydrometer arrived.  I was not able to use the glass syrup hydrometer cup because the sap hydrometer is much bigger.  So Jeff went to Home Hardware and got a piece of PVC pipe cut to size with a cap on the end and it worked perfectly.  

We tested all the trees individually.  Our lowest sugar content came from the tree in our front yard, a Norway Maple (we think).  It is a fairly young tree, and is probably smaller than the recommended size of 10-12" in diameter to be tapped.  On this date the sap of that tree only had 1.5% sugar.  Our best tree was in our neighbour's yard across the street.  Her tree was at 3.1% sugar, and we have one other tree at 3%.  The other trees range from 1.8% to 2.6%.

I also decided to test the sap in the storage container that we had collected before the sap hydrometer arrived.  It tested at 2.1%, so that was pretty good.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to try and make the propane burner more efficient.  We had some cinder blocks out by the deck so we surrounded the burner with the blocks to help contain the heat.  It helped a little, but not much, as heat was able to escape around the edges of the pan.  It still only boiled off slightly more than one gallon an hour.  We really need a steam pan that is square and completely covers the top of the burner.  

We started the boil on April 5th, and boiled for five hours then shut it down to go to bed.  At midnight we just put the lid on it and called it a day.

The next day, Sunday, we resumed boiling for another 10 hours.  Jeff brought his laptop out to work on video while boiling.  The smaller pot is our "pre-heater" for sap.  The cold sap from the bin is first heated on a small propane one-burner stove before it is transferred to the big pan.  That way there is no pausing of the boiling in the big pan - it is a continuous rolling boil.

I put a couple of rocks I had in the yard up against the open side of the burner to try and help insulate it a bit more.

After ten hours of boiling outdoors, it is brought inside and transferred to the finishing pot.  It's really starting to look and smell like syrup now.

 When it has reached a temp somewhere between 220 and 221, we take it off the heat and do a hydrometer test.  This time I heated the hydrometer cup in the oven to maintain the hot test temperature of 211.  It is measuring right at 59 brix which is considered done but not as "done" as I would have liked.  But rather than risk overdoing it, we're calling it done.

This boil produced about 6.3 cups of syrup, but again we had issues with filtering where we lost a bunch.  After filtering through the Orlon filter and pre-filter I could still see sugar sand (niter) suspended in the syrup.  So we tried running it through coffee filters.  It plugged up too quickly so we had to re-filter it through the Orlon and pre-filter again.  We lost so much syrup in the filters!  And then after the fact, I read on a maple sugaring forum that you are supposed to dampen the Orlon filter first so it doesn't absorb so much syrup.  Damn!  

And despite all of our filtering and loss of syrup, there was still niter suspended in the syrup.  I also read after the fact that it is nearly impossible to remove all the niter with gravity filters.  The only way to remove it all was with commercial filter presses which are very expensive and not for the hobbyist (unless you have lots of money).  Most hobbyists just let the niter settle to the bottom and in about a week the syrup will look clear.  The niter is harmless...the syrup just looks nicer without it.  Our first batch didn't have it because early season sap has less niter and what was there was caught by the coffee filter.  Niter increases as the season progresses though, and it is also what gives the syrup a darker colour and stronger maple flavour.

So after all that, this is what we were left with.  Our second boil syrup is the lighter-coloured one on the left (1 cup).  The next bottle which is slightly darker is from this boil, also 1 cup.  The little bottle was leftover (2/3 cup), and the large bottle is 2 cups.  So we lost about 2.5 cups of syrup in the filtering fiasco.  Now we know...filter once, do not obsess about niter. lol 

We had the syrup from the little bottle on our waffles for breakfast and it was yummy.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Making Maple Syrup - Our Second Boil - March 30, 2014

Below is our log for our second week of sap collecting.

March 23 (suppertime collection) - 16 cups. Weather: Cloudy, high +4.7°C, low -6.8°C
March 24 - No collection - never got above zero.  Weather: Sunny, high -4°C, low -16.2°C
March 25 - No collection - barely got above zero.  Weather: Sunny, high +.7°C, low -13.6°C
March 26 - Brought buckets in due to snowstorm coming.  Thawed out and collected what was in the buckets. - never got above zero.  Got 4 1/2 cups.  Weather: Cloudy and windy.  Blizzard started around 11 a.m., high -4.4°C, low -8.3°C
March 27 - Cold, no sap. Weather:  High +0.5°C, low -7.2°C
March 28 - 15 cups.  Weather:  High +6.6°C, low -5.6°C
March 29 - Forgot to record.  Weather:  High +11.4°C, low -0.6°C
March 30 - 52.5 cups.  Weather:  High +0.5°C, low -1.3°C

Total for next boil:  88 cups/5.5 gallons.  

On March 26th we got a huge snowstorm - at least 40cms.  Here are a couple of pics from the day after:

We've discovered that we have made a newbie mistake by drilling tap holes with the wrong sized drill bit.  The size we needed for our old school spiles is a 7/16 bit.  This appears to be an odd size as none of our bit sets contained it.  So we went with one that was close.  But as the old saying goes, "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades"....and tapping maple trees. lol  "Close" didn't cut it.  The sap is leaking around the spiles and is running down the trees trunks. :(  Some are worse than others and some seemed to have sealed up a bit.  There's nothing we can do but leave them alone and hope for the best.  We had eight or so more trees to tap, so we ordered a proper tapping bit from Home Hardware and it is supposed to arrive on March 27th.

The new tapping bit arrived on March 27th, along with a syrup hydrometer.  On March 28th Jeff tapped the remaining eight or so trees in our neighbours' yards (yes, he got permission first ;)).  It made a huge difference.  The tapping bit may not look much different than a regular bit, but it made a world of difference in ease of going into the tree.

Once the hole is drilled about 2" into the tree, Jeff sticks a twig into the hole to remove any shavings.  Then he places the spile into the hole and gently taps it in.  If you hit it too hard you can split the wood and that will cause sap leakage down the trunk of the tree and it's not good for the tree.  We learned this the hard way.

We're a week past the first day of spring and he has to wear snowshoes. lol

I bought some bucket lids from a maple syrup supplier.  You can see one of them in the pic below.  However we still have the problem of rain running down the tree trunks, down the spile and into the buckets.  

Our next boil took about 5.5 hours.  Below is the final stage when it is brought into the house and finished on the stove.

When it starts to foam up like this that is a good sign it is just about ready.  The boiling point of water was 213°F today (it must be checked with every boil because it changes due to atmospheric conditions).  The sap becomes syrup when it reaches 7.1°F above the boiling point of water, so we are aiming for a temp of 220.1°F.  That is for the minimum density.  We like our syrup a bit thicker so we are going to aim for 220.6.  Unfortunately my digital thermometer does not read in tenths, only whole numbers, so after 220 it becomes a guessing game. 

Once we feel it has reached the right temperature, we take it off the heat and pour some syrup into a hydrometer cup.  The cup I'm using for the hydrometer is a Bios glass bottle tea infuser I got from Canadian Tire.  It is tall and double-walled glass, so it is the perfect thing for a hydrometer cup.  The hydrometer measures the density of the syrup.  The density is measured in "brix" (or % sugar) and the syrup has to be a minimum of 66.50 brix at room temperature for a cold test, or about 59.6 brix at a temp of 202°F for a hot test, which is about what it cools down to once it is poured into the hydrometer cup.  The red line on the hydrometer is marked for 59 brix at 211°F. Below you can see that the red line on the hydrometer is just above the syrup line, at about 59.7 brix.  Close enough!

Now that the syrup is done, it must be filtered and bottled hot.  I have pre-sterilized the bottle, and the syrup has to be poured in while it is still at a temperature between 180-190°F.  Anything less than 180°F and it could spoil.  Since we only have a small amount of syrup, I'm using a coffee filter here.  In this early season batch of light syrup there is very little sugar sand, called "niter", so the syrup came out crystal clear.

Below, the final product - 250ml.  This was produced from 5.5 gallons of sap.  We lost about another 1/4 cup due to filtering as I had squeezed the filter the first time and introduced sediment back into the bottle so I refiltered it again (making lots of mistakes and learning lessons for next year! lol).  Doing the math, I figured out that our sap only had a 1.22% sugar content in our sap which is not good.  I have read that early in the season the trees can be lower in sugar content and that it gains as the season progresses.  Or, we could have rain water diluting the sap.  I have to order a sap hydrometer so we can check the sugar content of the sap from each tree, and also if it rains we can check the sap to see if it has become diluted with rain water before wasting the time and fuel boiling it.  Anyway, this bottle I believe would be graded as Canada #1 Extra Light.

It took about 5.5 hours for the boil, which isn't very efficient at 1 gallon per hour.  I think we're going to try and insulate the burner next time using cinder blocks for better efficiency.

I realize this is all a bunch of boring information for anyone reading this, but it's my way of documenting for quick reference in the future when we do this again in other years.  It will be neat to compare weather patterns with sap production after a number of years.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Making Maple Syrup - Our First Boil - March 23, 2014

Maple syrup season is delayed by two to three weeks this year due to the unseasonably cold temperatures.  It certainly does not feel like spring has arrived.  We've had some nice days where it went above zero and we were able to collect sap, but most days it was running pretty slowly.  Sap will spoil just like milk if it is not kept chilled and boiled within 7 days.  Since there was a cold snap coming up we wanted to boil what we had rather than risk it spoiling.  Read on below to see how we started with this:

....and ended up with this:

Below is our log for the past week of sap collecting:

March 19 - 5.25 cups. Weather: Sunny, high +6.8°C ( in the sun), low -10.9°C
March 20 - 6.00 cups. Weather: Cloudy, high +4.8°C, low -3.5°C, 6.6mm rain
March 21 - 4.50 cups. Weather: Sunny/Cloudy, high +5°C, low +.7°C, .3mm rain
March 22 - 22.75 cups (woo hoo!). Weather: Sunny, high +5.5°C, low -3.2°C
March 23 (by middday) - 13 cups. Weather: Cloudy, high +4.7°C, low -6.8°C

Jeff collected an additional 16 cups by the end of the day on March 23, but we are freezing that and will use it in our second boil.

Total for first boil: 51.5 cups (or 3.22 gallons) from six trees.  We have three or four more trees we are going to tap (in our neighbour's yard) but Jeff had to get some more buckets and spiles.  We'll probably tap those trees this coming Friday as it's supposed to be above zero.

First, some more pics of the sap and sap buckets, since I love taking pics. :)

This is what we had at the beginning of the day on Saturday.  It was just over 2 1/2 gallons.  As we were boiling, Jeff continued to collect sap and gathered another 13 cups to add to the pot.

Since you don't want to boil sap inside your house (hours of boiling produces lots of sticky steam), we used an outdoor propane stand fryer, often used for lobster boils and corn boils.  It is 60,0000 btu's. We first started using it in the driveway but it was very windy and it was having a detrimental effect on the heat getting to the pot.  So we decided to move the whole production to our now-empty wood shed, which is just a lean-to surrounded by tarps.  This worked great and it was a nice sheltered spot to do the boil.

We used a stainless steel roasting pan that was about 5" high and 14x12".  We started by adding about 4 inches of sap.

Once the sap boiled down a couple of inches, we would add more sap that had been preheated to the boiling point in a pot on the kitchen stove.  Adding preheated sap keeps the boil going constantly.

Since this was our first time doing this, we didn't really know how long it would take to go down or what to expect so we took turns babysitting the boiling sap the whole time.  It was kind of fun actually, kind of like sitting around a campfire except you are mesmerized by boiling sap rather than yellow flames. lol

Once all of our sap had been added to the roaster, we started to watch the temperature.  You have "syrup" when the temperature has reached 7.1°F over the boiling point of water, which was 212°F.  So we would be watching for a finish temp of 219.1°F.  Just before it got to that point though, we brought it into the house and transferred the pre-syrup to a smaller pot, at the same time filtering it through cheesecloth to remove some of the larger particles of sugar sand.

Once the temp of 219.1°F had been reached, we used cone coffee filters to filter it again into a measuring cup.  The final yield was just about 1 1/2 cups.  However it seemed quite thin and we had our doubts it was the correct consistency for syrup, so we put it back in the pot and boiled it down to a temp of 220°F.  Then we filtered it again into the measuring cup.  Every time you filter you lose a little bit of syrup in the filter.  Determined not to lose anymore syrup, I made the mistake of squeezing the filter with tongs to squeeze out the last drop of syrup.  Big mistake...when I did this, I saw cloudy sediment go back into the measuring cup.  So I filtered for the third time....losing even more syrup. lol  At least it came out crystal clear this time.  Next time I'm not touching the filter at all.

This is the end product.  After boiling it down again and filtering three times, we were left with about 1 1/4 cup of crystal clear, amber-coloured syrup.  We had it on our pancakes for supper that night (yes, we had pancakes for and it was delicious.

Now that I had the final quantity of syrup, I was able to figure out the sugar content of our sap.  Sugar Maples have an average of around 2 to 2.5% sugar in their sap, whereas other maples often have less.  We have mostly Norway Maples (we think), and one what we believe is a Manitoba Maple but without leaves we won't know for sure until summer.  Manitoba Maples are supposed to have quite a bit lower sugar content.

Using the "Rule of 86," the number of gallons of sap we would need to produce one gallon of syrup is equal to 86 gallons divided by the percent of sugar in the sap.

So if you start with sap that is 2% sugar, you would need to evaporate 43 gallons of water (86 gallons /2% = 43 gallons) to make one gallon of syrup.

Since we had only gathered 3.22 gallons of sap (equal to 51.5 cups), I will use cups in the formula instead of gallons.  We had 51.5 cups of sap that produced 1.25 cups of syrup.  51.5 /1.25 = 41.2.  86/41.2 = 2.09% sugar.  I'm happy with that. :)  Also of note is that we had a day of rain where rainwater ran down the tree trunks and dripped down the spiles into the buckets so that day we definitely had rainwater diluting our sap.  We have thought up a remedy for that problem for the next time it rains so hopefully we will not have any rainwater in our sap again and I'll do another sugar percentage calculation after our next boil.

This is a great hobby to help get through winter.  And once maple season is over fishing season will be in high gear!