Last time we chatted, I told you just how easy it is to tap your tree… and it is! Unbelievably easy! Processing your sap into maple syrup can be easy too, BUT there are some things you need to watch out for; mistakes we made that cost us.
How to Turn Your Sap in to Maple Syrup
Before we get into what to avoid, here’s how to process your sap. It’s a simple, albeit lengthy process.
Step 1: Grab your processing materials – Heat source, pot (with large surface area), candy thermometer, filter (can be filter paper, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter), funnel, and container to put your syrup in.
Step 2: Get your sap in the pot – Find the largest surface area pot you can, and fill it about 3/4 of the way full.
Step 3: Turn up the heat – You can process your syrup inside or outside, but it does get very steamy if you do it in your house. For this reason, you might consider processing outside. You can use a fire pit, a grill, a turkey frier. There’s lots of options. The main thing you want is to get a hot fire so you can bring your sap to a boil.
Step 4: Bubble bubble toil and trouble – Boil your sap. For a long time. When you notice it’s gone down to about 1/4 full, add more sap. Repeat this process til you’ve used all you sap.
Step 5: Watch VERY carefully – Once the last batch of sap is in and it’s boiled down and started to turn to an amber color, keep a close eye on your candy thermometer. Once the sap reaches seven degrees above the boiling temperature of water (this can change depending on your altitude) it is syrup!
Step 6: Almost done – When your sap reaches temperature, quickly turn off the heat, and get your filtering supplies ready.
Step 7: Filtering – While the sap is still hot, pour it through your funnel and filter into your container (I use mason jars). Any sediment will be caught, and the syrup will be nice and clean in your container.
Step 8: Enjoy! – Put your fresh maple syrup in the fridge. Any remaining sediment will fall to the bottom, and you can pour out the clean syrup, or just use it until you reach the sediment-y part.
Mistakes to Avoid
As I said at the beginning of this article, we made some mistakes the first time we made our maple syrup. I want to share them with you so you can avoid them, save some time, and get better yields of syrup from your sap.
Not Getting the Fire Hot Enough
When we tried to process our first batch of syrup, we decided to use our fire pit. We bought a big cast iron dutch oven, made a nice fire, and set the pot on our grate. And then we waited and waited. And waited… til nothing happened. No matter how hard we tried we could not get our pot hot enough to boil. Our wood was too wet. That’s what you get for having wood out in Indiana winters with no cover… The fire smoked and burned but then died down. My poor husband literally spent hours trying to make it work. Long story short, it didn’t. So we moved the operation inside.
Processing Too Much Sap at Once
Even though our wood was too wet to get the fire really going, we might also have poured too much sap in at the beginning. When you’re processing maple syrup, you want there to be as much surface area on your cooking vessel as possible. That way it will come to a boil faster, evaporate faster, and give you glorious syrup faster. Also, if you fill it too high and it does come to a boil, there’s a chance it could bubble over, which would waste some of your sap and be a big ol’ mess.
Not Having Someplace to Store Your Sap
We were so excited about making maple syrup that we didn’t even think about where to put the sap when it wasn’t being processed. We thought we’d just keep it on the tree in the bags. And most of the time that would be fine. But our bags were filled to the brim. And when my husband tried to hang the first bag back up, it somehow ripped and fell off the tree, spilling close to three gallons of precious sap (that would’ve been over eight ounces of syrup).
We ended up zip tying our bags to our deck, in order to store the sap til the next boil. If we’d had some food grade plastic buckets, however, we could’ve just poured it right in there, snapped the lid on, and went on with our day without a care in the world. You live and you learn I guess…
Not Being Patient
We were aware that processing maple syrup can take a long time. So we set the day aside. This was a good thing, especially since we had so many unplanned setbacks. However, it could’ve been an even more frustrating day had we scheduled other activities, or needed to go somewhere.
Once you start the process, you can’t stop. Make time to take time. And just let the sap do it’s thing. If you’re boiling outside, enjoy the fresh air, maybe do some garden prep, and have fun. If you’re doing it inside, strip down to your bathing suit, drink some iced tea, and pretend you’re spending time in the sauna (no joke, every window in our house steamed up, lol). Bottom line, don’t rush it. A few hours later you will have FREE maple syrup you can use on the best pancakes you’ll ever have.
Not Paying Attention
Once we brought our first batch of sap inside and got it boiling on the stove, we felt so relieved we just let it go. We kept an eye on it and added more sap when it started to go down. But by the time it started to turn color to a pale amber, it was time to put our daughter to bed. My husband literally said, “the sap’s turning amber.” All I said was, “sounds good.” We were so tired we didn’t even realize it was syrup time! By the time we put Charlie to sleep (only five to ten minutes later), the sap was too hot. It passed the syrup stage and turned to candy.
Even though the process can take a while, it’s so unbelievably important to keep a watchful eye on the pot. As soon as it starts to look golden, or amber, you’re minutes away from having maple syrup. That’s when all other activities need to stop. You need to watch the thermometer like a hawk and get ready to filter. If you don’t turn off the heat, and filter things fast enough, it can turn to candy (and while our maple candy is definitely not going to waste, it wasn’t our original intent 🙂 )
We learned so much during our first time processing sap into maple syrup. While we didn’t get the quart of syrup we should have, we did get a nice bowl of maple candy and eight ounces or pure maple syrup from our own backyard. We still have something to show for our efforts. And what’s more, is the knowledge and experience we gained. Next year we will know so much more and be able to process our syrup so much more easily.
As you get ready to process your sap into maple syrup this year, take our mistakes into consideration. I hope our story helps your experience go smoother! I wish you the best of luck, and hope you get to enjoy the fruits of your labor on a nice stack of pancakes!
Share your experience
I want to see how your maple syrup-ing turns out! Be sure to tag me in any photos you post on Instagram or Facebook @sweetgumspot, and follow me while you’re there! I look forward to celebrating our successes and working through challenges together!