Long before she had access to the maple-producing power of a wooded area full of trees, Kim Enders made syrup from a single tap in the back yard of her childhood home. The sap she and her parents collected from that lone maple tree boiled down to only a tablespoon of syrup, but she still looks upon it fondly as a family learning experience.
Enders and her husband, Kevin, are co-owners of Red Schoolhouse Maple, in Fulton, one of more than 130 sugarhouses participating in this year’s New York State Maple Weekends, March 16, 17, 23 and 24. During those weekends, maple lovers throughout the state will have the opportunity to attend events like pancake breakfasts and open houses hosted by New York’s many maple producers. For people who can’t make it to Maple Weekend festivities or simply want to bring the experience into their own backyards as Enders’ family did, Enders sheds some light on how you can make your own maple syrup at home.
Phase One: The Tap To get started, you’ll need a tap for the tree, available at most local hardware stores, and a container in which to collect the sap—something like a bucket, pail or even a milk jug. But whatever you use, make sure to scrub it clean before starting.
“Take a sniff of the container to make sure it doesn’t have any smells,” Enders advises, “because one thing about maple sap, and maple syrup, is that if it picks up any odors, it picks up an off flavor.”
Once you have your tap and container ready, drill a hole into the tree where you plan to set your tap. Hammer the tap lightly until you feel that it’s in place.
“You don’t want to hit it so hard that you split the bark on the tree,” Enders cautions. “It should be like a tap, tap, and then thonk. You’ll feel a difference, and you’ll know that your tap is set in the tree.”
Now that your tap is set, how do you know how much sap you need to collect? Enders says the ratio of 43 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup is a good frame of reference. For starters, she recommends collecting five to seven gallons. Although that will produce only a small amount of syrup, it should be just enough for those trying the process as a learning experience.
Phase Two: Boiling Point
After you’ve collected the sap, prepare for a long boiling process. Enders suggests an outdoor setup using a turkey fryer. Not all of the sap will fit in it at once, so just keep adding sap as it boils down, until everything you’ve collected has made it in.
Because the boiling point might vary slightly depending on elevation, try boiling water first to make sure you know the correct temperature at your location. Letting the sap hit seven degrees above boiling point—219 degrees at Enders’ sugarhouse—will usually produce syrup that is the right density, she says.
As the boiling nears the end, you’ll need to be watchful to keep the sap from burning. It can go from normal boiling to foaming and then burning very suddenly, Enders cautions, so from about 212 to 215 degrees is a good point to start looking out for that. Keep a few drops of canola oil handy, and if the sap hits 219 and starts to foam, add them to the pan.
“That’ll help keep the foam down,” Enders explains.
While seven degrees above boiling is a good general rule of thumb for those just getting started, Enders recommends that those who want to get serious about making their own syrup buy a hydrometer—a device that floats in the hot sap and has a mark to indicate when it’s at the correct density. Maple syrup hydrometers can be purchased online or from maple syrup suppliers. Once sap has boiled down to the correct density, you’ll have maple syrup!
Phase Three: What To Do with It
Syrup should either be refrigerated right away or sealed in mason jars and refrigerated after opening, Enders says. As long as it’s refrigerated, the syrup will keep.
Then, eat and enjoy. This year’s Maple Weekends take place Saturdays, March 16 and 23, and Sundays, March 17 and 24, with events running 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. For a full list of Maple Weekend participants and events, visit mapleweekend.com.
For information about Red Schoolhouse Maple, visit redschoolhouse maple.com or call 243-1024.