Maple season has begun in the north east. Last week I was at Camp Lutherlyn tapping trees. On that day the wind was howling and snowflakes whizzed by at breakneck speeds but it was a good day just the same.
Not all maple trees will produce the sap needed to make maple syrup. It’s all about location. In order for the sap “to run” air temperatures must fluctuate often between freezing and thawing. The only place in the world where these weather conditions occur is in north east of the U.S. (okay, Canada has a few spots too.)
Collecting the tree sap is relatively easy. First find a maple tree measuring 32 inches or larger in circumference. Then drill a hole 1 ½ inches into the tree’s sapwood. (use a drill bit slightly larger than the spile.) Clean all the wood shaving out of the freshly drilled hole. Insert the spile, give it a few taps with a mallet to make sure it’s secure. Hang the collection bucket.
This is a spile set into a tree. Basically it’s a spout.
How much sap is collected from a tree or how fast the sap runs varies from tree to tree. Nature is in control and people who collect maple sap know they have very little say in how a season turns out.
As I stated earlier, collection the sap is the easy part. Boiling the sap into syrup is the hard part. It take 50 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. Boiling sap down to syrup stage takes a lot of time.
This is what 50 gallons looks like. 50 gallons of sap is needed to make 1 gallon of syrup.
Camp Lutherlyn’s Maple Sugar Shack.
I’ve boiled sap on a stovetop. Having done so I’ve decided paying $15 for a bottle of syrup is worth every penny. At the camp they have a Sugar Shack with an evaporating table. The sap is cooked in shallow trenched heated by a wood fire. On a good day they will produce a gallon of syrup.
Evaporating table. The black pipe, back of photo on the right, belongs to the wood stove that provides heat to the table.
After the water has been boiled off and the syrup is the correct thickness one last step is performed. The syrup is then filtered to remove sand. The sand is a combination of minerals the tree sucked up through it’s roots. There is actually a lot of sand to be removed from syrup. This task isn’t easy to do, another reason why I buy maple syrup at the store.
My family and I are not tapping trees this year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to join my friends at Camp Lutherlyn in tapping trees this winter. It was a wonderful way to spend the day.
by Jill Eudaly
photos by Jill Eudaly