Today I committed myself to spring. That is, today my husband and I tapped four maple trees, installing just seven taps. We aren’t looking for a cash crop of maple syrup, or even a barter crop—just enough syrup to sweeten our days and make gifts for family. Those seven taps—three of which are already running—will yield us gallons of maple sap that I will boil down into syrup on my kitchen stove as I go about my ordinary days doing my ordinary things.
Surely winter has had us in its grip long enough. The path to the buckets is two feet of corn snow that falls into our boots in icy clumps. Friday, when we woke, it was -8°F (“You get up too early,” laughed my sister on the phone), but by one o’clock, it was a warm bright day. The sunlight means something. I can feel my bones defrosting.
People look at me with amusement when I say that we have been boiling maple sap into syrup in the kitchen for all these years and have only run into a problem once: an ice dam that formed on the roof outside the kitchen because of extra moisture that collected during very cold weather. We weathered it. Oh, and the surface of my stove around the burner has become pitted and has lost its finish—a cosmetic issue caused by long periods of high heat. I’ve heard tales of wallpaper falling off walls, mold forming on painted surfaces, and the like, but I’ve never experienced it or visited anyone with firsthand experiences of said disasters.
|Hammering in the tap|
When sap is flowing, I collect the sap daily. If I can’t boil the sap immediately, or if I collect more than will fit in my 5-gallon stock pot, I try to keep the sap as cold as I can, preferably outside, in the shade, and packed with snow.
Really, the most challenging part of the process is figuring out when the syrup is done. Syrup that is too thin may ferment in storage—or change the baking time or texture of your baked goods that use syrup. If the syrup is too dense, it may form sugar crystals during storage. You can judge when the syrup is ready by visual cues (risky but cheap), by using a thermometer (you should have one anyway for judging when meat is done), or by using a hydrometer (single use, but highly accurate and can be found for under $20).
If you are going to use a thermometer correctly, you need to figure out the boiling temperature of water on that day. Boiling temperature is generally 212°F. But it will go up or down based on your elevation and on the atmospheric pressure on that day. If you are going to use visual cues, stick a plate in the freezer. A spoonful of syrup dropped on the chilled plate will allow you to leave a trail if you run a finger through it.
That’s it. Making maple syrup is the best way I know to wait for the ground to thaw.
This post originally appeared on Andrea Chesman’s blog, Roots and Leaves.
Andrea Chesman is the author of many cookbooks, including The Pickled Pantry, Recipes from the Root Cellar, Pickles and Relishes, Mom’s Best One-Dish Suppers, and The Vegetarian Grill, which was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Book Award and won a National Barbecue Association Award of Excellence. She is a coauthor of 250 Treasured Country Desserts and The Classic Zucchini Cookbook, and her articles have appeared in the New York Times, Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Vegetarian Times, Organic Gardening, Fine Cooking, and other publications. Visit Andrea's website.