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!


  1. Great Job guys!.. a friend of mine and me started doing it last year. we tapped 40 trees. I can't remember how much syrup we got out of them, but it was delicious and didn't last long hehe.. sharing it to friends and co-workers. This year we have 103 trees and are boiling onsite in the open air with a handmade/custom made wood fired boiler. It is a great hobby and the kids love it! Glad to see the fever is spreading around this year and more friends doing it.

    1. Thanks're addicted! lol And I can see's a lot of fun. I wish we had 100 trees to tap!