How to Make Maple Syrup II: Boiling, filtering, canning, color, and flavor

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How to make maple syrup in your backyard. These are 2 jars of our own liquid gold.

How to make maple syrup in your backyard. These are 2 jars of our own liquid gold.

This is the 2nd of a 2 part series on maple sugaring. In How to Make Maple Syrup I, I covered choosing trees and collecting sap. In this part, I describe pros and cons of boiling off indoors vs. outdoors, show our own backyard evaporator, discuss filtering and canning, and conclude with a few words on color and flavor.

Overview of how to make maple syrup as we do it

We have 6 taps which produce a total of 60-80 gallons of sap, yielding 1.5 – 2 gallons of syrup per season. We boil outdoors a few afternoons per week, and on some of the in-between days, I finish boiling the concentrated sap to the syrup stage in the kitchen.

  1. Evaporate over fire outdoors, scooping out particles and foam, as we see them, with a small, stainless steel, fine mesh strainer, until sap is gold but not yet as thick as syrup.
  2. Take concentrated sap indoors and filter through coffee filter.
  3. Store in refrigerator until ready to complete the boiling off.
  4. Boil concentrated sap in kitchen until it reaches a temperature of 7 degrees over the boiling point of water (varies with elevation).
  5. Skim off foam, if necessary.
  6. Pour into sterilized canning jars, leaving appropriate head space, and cover with sterilized lids and rings.
  7. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from water bath and store at room temperature. (We store for up to a year, but I’m not sure what the official recommendation is.)

Where to boil off the sap

Small producers like backyard sugarers have three options, and there are pros and cons to each.

Boil it off all in the kitchen

If you’re only making a few quarts of syrup and you have a good range hood with a powerful fan, you might find it convenient to do all the boiling off in the kitchen. I’ve actually boiled our season’s worth of sap (60-80 gallons total) in the kitchen, in past years. It took a long time but it did not result in a sticky coating all over the kitchen (some sources say it does, but it didn’t), and the moisture was welcome, given the extremely dry air here at this time of year. The resulting syrup was extremely pure in flavor. The downside of boiling off indoors is that it’s a very slow process.

Do most of the boiling outdoors over fire, then finish in the kitchen

This is what we do now. Boiling outdoors, where the cold, dry air quickly sucks the steam up from boiling sap, spread out over large, flat pans, goes much more quickly. The disadvantage is that there is usually some scorching of the solids on the sides of the pan as the sap boils down. Little pieces of this char fall into the sap and can give the syrup an off flavor. The longer that stuff cooks in the sap, the stronger the off flavors. So I bring it indoors when it’s beginning to turn gold, filter through a coffee filter, and finish boiling in the kitchen.

Boil the sap to syrup all outdoors

This is fastest and easiest, but outdoors is a less controlled environment, and you can expect off flavors in some batches. You can scoop out some of the char with a strainer, but some of it will be small enough to pass through the strainer, and won’t be removed until you filter through something like a coffee filter. You will want to filter at the end, and if you don’t want those particles cooking in your syrup throughout the entire process, you’ll want to also filter it when part way done.

An outdoor evaporator

Maple sap evaporator made of concrete blocks, buffet pans, and HVAC duct pipe

Maple sap evaporator made of concrete blocks, buffet pans, and HVAC duct pipe

My husband built a simple evaporator made with cinder blocks based on this one, and 4 inch deep 12 x 24 buffet pans, like these: Excellante Full Size 4-Inch Deep 24 Gauge Anti Jam Pans
We configured the blocks slightly differently, and added a base of 4 x 8 x 16 inch concrete blocks. With this, we can boil about 10 gallons of sap down to 1 gallon in an afternoon, before bringing it indoors to filter and finish boiling it to syrup.

One problem with the above set-up in our photo, is that smoke could come up over the pan in the front, giving the syrup a slightly smoky flavor. So we got an additional block and adjusted it slightly, so that the top layer of blocks was closed. We add wood to the fire through the opening in the bottom layer, and most of the smoke comes out of the pipe.

Evaporator adjusted so that pans are completely surrounded by blocks, keeping smoke away from sap. Evaporator even doubles as a wienie roaster.

Evaporator adjusted so that pans are completely surrounded by blocks, keeping smoke away from sap. Evaporator even doubles as a wienie roaster.

Should you filter the finished syrup?

If you notice any dark solids in the syrup, you should definitely filter again. If you filter that stuff out, immediately after bringing the concentrated sap indoors, you shouldn’t have any brown or black solids in your finished syrup. Should you still filter it?

You will notice whitish, feathery looking solids in the syrup. If you don’t filter, they make the syrup looks cloudy at first, but eventually settle to the bottom. This material is sometimes called niter, but I think that is misleading, at best, since niter technically refers to potassium nitrate. There might be some of that in this sediment, but studies have shown the main constituent is calcium malate, a compound that gives certain fruits a pleasantly sour taste. However, there is also some sugar in it, for I have filtered it out and tasted it. It is sweet. So I prefer the other common name for those whitish solids: sugar sand.

Should you filter out the sugar sand? Conventional wisdom and many sources say yes, claiming that it gives the syrup an off flavor. I believe that is incorrect. I don’t filter our finished syrup, and it is delicious. I agree with these Chautauqua County, NY producers, that filtering maple syrup is only for aesthetics, and removes harmless, naturally occurring substances.

The important stuff to filter out is the black char and any other debris that gets into the sap, but I would not wait until the syrup is finished to filter that out. The longer it sits in the boiling sap, the more likely your syrup will have an off flavor.

Filtered syrup at left. In unfiltered syrup at right, you can see a whitish sediment, "sugar sand", at the bottom.

Filtered syrup at left. In unfiltered syrup at right, you can see a whitish sediment, “sugar sand”, at the bottom.

Canning the finished syrup

I want to be able to safely store the syrup at room temperature for months, so I pour it into sterilized 8 ounce canning jars, leaving appropriate head space, and process it in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Same process as for jellies and jams.

Color and flavor of maple syrup

The color and flavor of maple syrup depend on several factors:

  • Time during season when sap was collected
  • Genetics of the tree
  • Soil type
  • Weather conditions
  • Processing

The chemical composition of maple sap changes over the course of the season, but more importantly, the increasingly warm weather causes bacteria in the environment to proliferate more quickly, and colonize the sap as it is collected. These bacteria convert sucrose, the dominant sugar in maple sap, to glucose and fructose. When the sap is heated, glucose and fructose (but not sucrose) can react with amino acids in the sap. This produces a mixture of molecules that cause browning and give the syrup a stronger flavor. Known as the Maillard reaction, this is the chemical process in cooking which creates the yummy flavors of well browned foods.

Our maple syrup tends to be lighter on color and more delicate in flavor than syrup we’ve tasted from other New England farms. We do get darker syrup later in the season, but it only gets about as dark as medium amber. Maybe this has to do with factors, like soil and tree genetics, that we can’t control. Some people might find it frustrating that they can’t get their syrup to look and taste exactly like the syrup they buy in the store, but I think it’s kind of cool that geography and genetic diversity factor into maple syrup.

Sources:

I love receiving comments and questions! Have you made maple syrup? What are your thoughts on boiling off, filtering, and canning?

Shared on: Backyard Farming Connection #72, Wildcrafting Wednesday #129, Fluster’s Creative Muster #63, Wake Up Wednesday Link Party #8, Waste Not Want Not Wednesday #65, Wicked Awesome Wednesday #152, HomeAcre Hop #62, Homemaking Party, Home and Garden Thursday, Think Tank Thursday #73, From the Farm Blog Hop, Real Food Fridays #30, Freedom Fridays #20, Farmgirl Friday blog hop, Simply Natural Saturdays, Heritage Homesteaders Hop #5, Simple Life Sunday #10, Thank Goodness it’s Monday #63, Homestead Barn Hop #152, Mostly Homemade Mondays #72, Natural Living Monday, Down Home blog hop #81, Wellness Wednesday #41, Mountain Woman Rendezvous #39


Comments

How to Make Maple Syrup II: Boiling, filtering, canning, color, and flavor — 96 Comments

  1. Pingback: How to Make Maple Syrup I: Choosing Trees and Getting Sap - One Acre Farm

  2. I love this – so interesting! We don’t have any sugar maple trees here in California, but I do have a maple tree!!?? Not sure what kind it is – I think it’s a Rock Maple. Probably no sugar, but it is pretty! I have heard you can also tap birch and black walnut! Thanks for showing your process. It is on my bucket list to make it back to New England during sugaring season to see this whole process with my own eyes! Question: Does it smell wonderful when the sap is boiling outside? I have always imagined that if a lot of people are boiling sap at around the same time, the aroma in the neighborhood would be heavenly!

    • Hi Vickie, you’re right, sugar maples don’t grow in CA. Rock maple is actually a term we sometimes use out here for sugar maple, but in CA it must refer to some other maple, maybe the rocky mtn maple. I think you can tap any maple, but the sap is more dilute than that of sugar maple, requiring more time and fuel to process. Yes, syrup can be made from sap of birch and a number of other trees, but flavor is not like maple syrup.

      Very few people make syrup in their backyards around here, so you can’t smell that maply smell throughout the neighborhood, but it smells really good right near our evaporator when we are boiling off. :-)

  3. Great post with a lot of good information that I was not aware of. I admire you for your ability to make your own equipment and love the finished product. Homemade maple syrup has to be so much healthier than store bought and the organic is so expensive. Visiting from the Home acre Blog Hop! Have a wonderful healthy day!

  4. I always like to see how other people boil. We use a 5 gallon drum and then use everything else the same way you do. We store it in the barn when we’re finished for the season. We “cook” out too!:) toasted marshmallow & peanut butter sandwiches are our fave!

  5. Pingback: 15 Trees for a Wildlife-Friendly, Edible Landsape - One Acre Farm

  6. Pingback: How To Make Maple Syrup | WV Preppers

  7. Great information. We are tapping some of our trees in the spring and I”m wondering instead of using an open fire could you use a propane tank flame and pot like the ones use with outdoor frying turkey’s

    • That will work fine but DONT use an alumnium pot. (most turkey fryers are alumnium) Use Stainless Steel. The Alumnium will give the syrup a metalic taste. (Harmless but very off tasting).

    • Yes we bought an outdoor burner that can hook to a BBQ grill tank and boiled our sap, it has worked wonderfully.It is quite fast and not that expensive{using propane}. We brought the sap in when we had probably half to a gallon of sap left to finish it off inside.

  8. This is one of the best how-tos for small maple syrup tapping. Thank you for posting. We have 3 maple trees and plan to tap for the first time this spring.

    Do you need to stir the syrup as it evaporates?

    • I would advise AGAINST stirring it, especially as it get close to being syrup. Just keep an eye on it, and skim or strain out anything char pieces or anything that might fall in. Also, if boiling outside esp. over wood try to make sure to skim off the foam periodically; doing that helps reduce the amount of char forming on the sides of the pan which makes less char fall into the sap and less cleanup later.

  9. Pingback: Tapping Trees for Syrup

  10. Pingback: My Week on Wednesday and Syrup Season » Once Upon a Time in a Bed of Wildflowers

  11. Great information! We have made syrup for our family after watching a demostration at a local nature preserve. We used a larga cauldron (found it in a wagon shed, it was used to make apple butter) over an open fire. We, like you, finished it inside on the kitchtn stove.
    I think this year, we will “graduate” to build an evaporator similar to yours.
    We did not use a hot water bath after pouring it into containers, and I had only one bottle develop some mold. I would like to try and boil it like you do this year, just in case. When you say “appropriate space at the top of the jar”, what do you mean. I plan on using 8oz jars as well.
    Thank you! I love reading your articles!

    • I also do not typically use a hot water bath, and I have never had a jar mold or spoil. As long as the syrup is boiled to the correct finished brix/density, it is very resistant to spoilage. What I do is fill the jars with fresh very hot syrup, then screw the lid on and flip them upside down for a while – probably 15-30 mins. – until the lid is as screaming hot as the contents. Then I flip it back over to cool. This almost always results in a sterilized lid and sealed jar on its own.

      RE: appropriate headspace – leave a little space under the lid, don’t fill it all the way to the top, same as for most canned goods. HOWEVER, that said… if you are going to try to use my ‘flip method’ described above, fill the jars a little bit higher with the hot syrup than you want them to be when they are at room temperature. That is, my hot syrup always ‘shrinks’/contracts a little bit in the jar as it cools, and unless it was filled slightly high to begin with, it can give the appearance of an underfilled jar.

      • I realize I’m being a bit OCD with the water bath step, but I promote that for 2 reasons. 1. I want the sealed jars to last for two years at room temperature. Sometimes we make enough syrup for 2+ years, which is great because we don’t have to tap the following year, but I want to be extra sure that syrup is sterile. 2. I’m covering my butt here, as someone providing info to the public. I don’t want someone coming after me because they got sick from improperly canned or stored syrup that they made using my instructions.

        • Well, until last fall, I still had 2012 syrup sitting on the shelf that was still sealed and good… :) I also still have many jars of my 2014 ‘personal batch’ (also known as dark-as-tar but delicious) left over that are in a fine state. Proof of the flip-thingy concept at least. I always use clean equipment and jars; I have had a less than a handful lose their seals over the years, but I just take those and use them for myself. No spoilage yet. The high sugar retards most things, so I suppose the worst-case I’d expect is visible mold or perhaps some fermentation.

          It’s okay to be OCD. There is nothing wrong with using a water bath and I am certainly not judging, especially when it comes to educating the public as you point out.

  12. Hi Chiara, by leave appropriate head space, I mean don’t fill the jar all the way to the top. Leave about the top 1/2 inch empty, as room for expansion. Same as what you would do when you can jelly or jam.

    I’ll think you’ll like using an evaporator with big flat pans. It boils off very quickly. Good luck, and have fun!

  13. I really enjoyed your article. I have only 2 trees. Neither is a sugar maple, but I tap them anyway. I pre-concentrate the sap by removing the frozen ice from the buckets before setting them to boil. The freezing process separates most of the sugars from the water and reduces the time needed to concentrate the sap. Very important as I’m already working with a lower quality sap. My syrup is about the same color as yours, and tastes delicious.

    • Kimberly, I’ve read about that strategy of removing the ice. People do it even with sugar maple sap. If you keep track of how many quarts of sap it takes to make 1 quart of syrup with your particular trees and with removing the ice, I’d love to know. What kind of maples do you use?

      • I’ve never bothered to identify them, except that they aren’t sugar maples. It does take an awful lot of sap to make syrup. I think last year I used almost 20 gallons and got almost a quart of syrup. I have no idea how much ice I pulled out. I have a neighbor down the street with an empty lot. I’m considering asking him to let me plant some sugar maples, along with some other edibles. I could keep him supplied with fresh nuts and berries while we wait for the maples to mature :)

        • 20 gallons making 1 quart is an 80:1 ratio, which says one of the non-sugar maples, as you already know, but doesn’t tell us which one. If you do plant sugar maples, look into a new technique being developed, to tap sugar maple saplings. If it works for you, you won’t need to wait so long for your trees to grow.

      • My trees are all sugar maples, and they are even more sugary than normal because they are all large-canopied wolf trees. They are around 30-34:1 ratio normally, but by taking out the ice I can get it down to 25-28:1 no problem, sometimes even with just one real good round of freezing.

  14. Good morning and thank you for posting an affordable evaporator. I love this idea! I was wondering what your thoughts are regarding using charcoal vs wood as a heat source? Thanks and have a fabulous weekend.

    • Hi Rahshal, we use wood because we have a lot of it, but if you live where firewood is hard to come by, coal might be a good idea. Beyond that, I don’t have any recommendation. Yes, this concrete block evaporator is very affordable and has worked extremely well for us. Happy sugarin’!

  15. I am in northern Ohio and have three maples of unknown variety that I tap. I usually figure on 8-10 gallons of sap per quart of syrup (32-40:1), but his year the ratio is only about 25:1. I boiled last Sunday and 11 gallons of sap yielded 1 3/4 quarts of excellent amber syrup. I think it may be connected to the historically cold winter which we just had. The sap is so sweet you can actually taste the difference from previous years. I will finish tapping the maples this weekend and tap the black walnuts next. Walnut syrup tastes different than maple but is perhaps even better. Or maybe just “more exotic”. We grow and preserve a lot of our own food and consider the whole sugaring process to be an annual act of renewal and promise.

    • Hi Chuck, 25:1 is an amazing ratio, and I can’t imagine it’s anything other than sugar maple. The latter averages 40:1, I am told, but some years I’ve gotten much better – maybe as good as 30:1. I wish I had some black walnuts to tap. I would love to taste it.

  16. I live in Michigan. All maples can be tapped for sap. All taste great! I’ve done black walnut also. Very good. Just as sweet and a slight nutty taste. Birch is next. Box elder is also a maple. And yup its yummy!
    We boil down out side. Seems to me…
    the more sap we add as the day goes on the darker the concentrate is. Just a thought. We can usually fill a 5 gallon bucket in a day or 2. But this year it has been very slow. The one thing you can’t control is weather. And that’s the key to sap. A 5 gallon bucket gets me a pint of syrup. And today. Slow flow its snowing AGAIN!

    • Yes, if you keep adding sap to the original batch, the syrup will be darker, because the earlier sap will have boiled a lot, making the Maillard reaction (described in the post) make more of the sugars react with amino acids. The syrup comes lighter if you just boil one batch of sap all the way to syrup without adding more sap as you go.

  17. Another thought… you can mix all maples together I have 2 silver maples 2 boxelders and 3 sugar maples all tapped. If you keep them separate I’ve found that silver maple and sugar maple taste and look the same box elder however has a slight buttery taste and is lighter in color but if I don’t have enough SAP to boil I’ll just mix them all. I don’t mix Tree type I keep walnut separate from birch… birch separate from maple and so on.

  18. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for the great article, it helps a lot to use some other people idea for home maple syrup production.

    I live in Quebec, Montreal area so we are not allowed to open fire outside, so I use propane to evaporate using a SS Boll. I am getting some black particles from the burned sap on the wall of the boll. And I am finishing on a stove inside just before the end product is ready (at around 215 F). I tried to use a coffee filter but the sap will not flow, am I missing something, it will be sitting there forever. I think to try chees cloth made of cotton, do you recommend this method?
    Many thanks again,

    Henri

    • Hi Henri. I found that cheesecloth didn’t catch the particles, even using several layers of it. I found that it did flow through the coffee filter really quickly, but it might depend on the brand of filter. I bought cheapy filters, and doubled them, because it was flowing through TOO quickly. Also, if you are filtering when it’s already thick and at or near the syrup stage, it will go slowly. I filter well before the syrup stage for precisely that reason.

  19. Thanks for spreading the information about home production of maple syrup. I love that you are so self sufficient. We just closed the season a day ago. We have 21 taps, all on sugar maples. The weather was not overly cooperative this year so the season was very short for us. We produced 4 gallons of syrup, mostly light to medium amber colored. Two days -very warm- produced very dark and strong maple flavored syrup. We evaporate outside and finish off inside. We filter the sap before we evaporate it, filter again after the evaporation and do a final filter of the syrup. The result is crystal clear syrup. Since we give most of it away to family and friends who may not understand what sugar sand is, this seems best. I would hate to have them throw out the syrup because they thought it had spoiled. We have had friends who threw out their gift of raw honey when it crystallized, thinking it had molded.

    • Wow, 21 taps – that is impressive, Martha. With your description of the weather pattern and sap run this year, it sounds like you are in the northeast, too. It was a terrible year for maple sugaring here. Last year was fantastic, however, and we still have some of last year’s yield. Good point about filtering. If I were selling it or giving a lot of it away, I might filter out that “sugar sand” as well, because people are used to seeing crystal clear syrup in the store. We don’t produce as much as you do, so we only give away a little, but when we do, we have to explain what that white stuff at the bottom is!

  20. I was very happy to read this article. My husband and I are in our second year of sugaring. Our first batch this year turned out perfect. Our second batch was lighter and contained the white flakes you described. We too were told it could be niter. We didn’t have this issue last year. It’s nice to know we aren’t alone. We went ahead and poured off all of the good syrup and re-canned it. We have one large jar that contains the syrup with sediment. I plan on making it into maple sugar. Thanks again for the information.

  21. Just a question about the water bath….I assume the starting water needs to be 180 degrees also when you put the already hot jars in? This is our 3rd year and we love it. Have never done the water bath though. We are in the process of boiling down about 60 gallons of sap already here in Indiana.

  22. Good stuff Janet!
    (Cleveland, OH – Westlake) I am evaporating my first ever batch as I type. It wasn’t until after I started this morning with stock pots on a two-burner 60k BTU camp stove that I found your site. The shallow buffet pans are on my list now as its been several hours and just now getting about ten gallons down to near finishing stage. Gone through about a whole 20lbs of propane also, so that’s not going to cut it.
    All we have in our suburban lot are silvers and they are flowing good right now. Ten trees total with 12 taps, 10+ gallons and counting quickly in the past 48hrs. Just thought I’d share what’s happening here!
    Thanks for the wonderful article!

  23. Love the directions you’ve provided for making maple syrup. I was wondering if I could do this process.
    Day one: boil the sap thus far collected to the concentrate stage, filter the sap and then refrigerate it.
    A day or two later boil more collected sap and filter then just add it to the first batch already in the refrigerator.
    Do that a few times until I want to do the finishing boil in the house to the syrup stage.
    This is going to be my first year collecting sap, and with the current temps I am going to run into a storage issue for the sap, and will need to boil frequently to avoid spoilage. Thanks for any insight you can provide.

  24. Nice article Janet. Growing up in North central WI my Dad always cooked maple syrup. We had about 20 hard maple (sugar maple) and we would hang coffee cans on the trees then dump the sap into old steel milk cans to store. Dad had made a 3′ by 3′ pan about 12″ deep and built a fire box out of brick,and we would keep adding sap as it cooked until we had a few gallons of syrup. Then we would put it in quart mason jars and Mom would hot water bath them to seal. We always finished everything right in the pan outside. Reading this I now know how come ours always had a little smoky flavor compared to stuff we now buy in the store. I loved that Smokey flavor. Well fast forward 30 yrs. Dad and Mom are both gone now but I have two teenage boys and about 2 to 3 acres of a mixture of soft and hard maple trees in the woods we live in. So we built the fire box pretty much the same as you have and we had 2 pans 2′ buy 2′ built. We plan to tap 30 to 40 trees. So far I have around $500 in everything from taps, & barrels, to testers and filters. Sap season should start here in a few weeks and I am so excited to carry on a family tradition with my boys. I have been readying all the info I can because I was a teenager the last time I cooked maple syrup and I guess I wasn’t listening as much as I should have back then. LOL I do have a question for you though. The way you cook outside how many gallons of sap do you cook down in an hour? My plan is I have 3 55 gallon barrels I will fill with sap then start to cook it down. How many hours do you think it will take to cook it down to syrup?

    • Hi Rick, it takes roughly 4 hours to reduce 10 gallons to 1 gallon. Roughly. On a sunny, breezy, low humidity day it might be a little less. On a still, humid day, it would be longer. Your pans are twice the size of mine, so you can go twice as fast, but with so many gallons you will have to boil over multiple days. I don’t know how long it will take in total, you’d have to do the math, but with all those trees, I’d start boiling as soon as the sap starts to flow. You can pool partially boiled sap and finish later, but you have a huge amount of sap to boil for just 2 2x2ft pans to save all the boiling for the end.

      You’re right, when you finish it outside it does have a smoky flavor. I love it too. So fun, isn’t it? It’s great that you are involving your sons. My son used to love maple sugarin’ but he’s 17 now and busy with other things.

  25. i processed 10 gallons last weekend. And ended up with one quart of really good syrup. We processed 50 gallons this weekend and got 5 and a half quarts of nice looking syrup that has such a strong smoke flavor that it is almost not edible. Both were evaporated over a wood fire however obviously the 50 gallons took much longer. Does your evaporator keep the smoke away from the boiling sap? This is my first year tapping trees and am learning a lot, hopefully next year I can keep the smoke out!

    • Hi Garrett, see the section on Evaporator to read how we reduced the smoky flavor. It’s hard to get rid of that entirely if you’re boiling it off outdoors over fire, but the more you can keep the smoke away from the sap, the less smoky it will taste. To me, a slight smoky flavor is desirable.

    • The one thing you might want to look at is the kind of wood you are using. For example any type of pine might give a different taste. I do a lot of smoking meat and wood type is the biggest factor in taste, and I would say maple syrup would be the same. We use all hard woods. We don’t even have a chimney on the cooker the smoke just rolls over the top and it tastes great?

      • Great point, Rick. We don’t mind the smoky flavor either, as long as it’s not too strong. Our fire wood is mostly sugar maple. Our yard is on old farmland with sugar maples lining the road that the old time farmers used to tap. We tap some of them, but others are old and dying now, and our fire wood comes from their fallen branches.

    • You’ll want to make sure you have a clean firebox that’s free of excess debris and ashes, and get a good hot-burning fire going using well-seasoned and dry wood. Gunky or ash filled firebox leads to more smoke off-flavor, as does wet wood or a lazy fire. Focus on using hardwoods and not things like pine or spruce. I have a 6′ chimney on mine which directs most smoke away. A little smoke does waft around the sides of the pans especially at first, but once the fire is really hot and there’s a bed of coals in there there’s almost no smoke at all.

      I find a light smoky flavor to be desirable, however.

  26. This is a wonderful write up. I’ve lived in VT my entire life and my boyfriend and I gave sugaring a try this year. He was up for 14 hours boiling on our homemade barrel stove last night- thinking we had done it all wrong and it wouldn’t come out. I’m finishing it off right now, and was so happy to see a to the point- write up like yours. Simple, but so far without readning anything have done it exactly like you’ve outlined and it’s on the stove inside right now for the finishing boil, as we ran out of wood. Thanks again.

  27. I have a question in regards to taste. Is it possible to get the smoke flavor out of processed syrup? I have some that has a strong smoke flavor and would like to know if it’s possible to get that flavor out of it?

    • Sometimes the ‘smoke flavor’ can be concentrated in any impurities/char/sugar sand left in the syrup – if that’s the case, filtering can help.

      In general, though, there’s no way I know of to remove all of the smoke flavor; prevention is the key (hot fire, dry hardwood, clean firebox scooped free of excess ashes, etc.).

      You could try diluting it in a less smoky batch to spread out the flavor, or you could cook with it in some application that makes the smokiness desirable, such as in BBQ or something.

  28. Hi Janet!
    Just making our first ever batch of maple syrup! We are ridiculously excited about the whole process!
    One question – we have bottled our syrup in 32 ounce mason jars – that’s all we had on hand.
    I’ve processed them in boiling water. If I want to split them into smaller jars to share with my friends, can I just sterilize the smaller jars when I pick them up next week and reprocess in a hot water bath again? Thanks for all the great info!

    • I was just about to reply about this. When you bottle with anything (Glass or plastic) Clean it with regular dish soap throughly. Then pour your syrup into the container at full temp, Cover, and allow it to cool upside down. The heat will steralize the inside of the container. I use plastic bottle form a local supplier. Just a quick rinse and no problems over a year later. (Besides the awful taste from the alumnium pots we used. All SS this year.

  29. Pingback: Home Made Maple Syrup Part 3 - Competition - Business Unusual

  30. What a wonderful webpage and article. I’ve been reading and researching maple trees until my eyes are tired! But this article was the best. And you inspire me because, although we are supposed to inherit our family’s 8 acre farm, our cousins want it sold. So if the farm doesn’t work out (I so pray it does) then atleast I have your 1 acre site to refer to as I continue growing and nourishing my family with the freshest foods possible on about 1 1/3 acres myself.
    My question is, how can I tell what kind of maples I have? I’ve read EVERYTHING and I’m still confused. I guess because I’m trying to figure them out in early March. The leaves all over the ground certainly seem like sugar maple, and I read that the branches must be equal growing, not intermittent so I’ve got that but the bark is so hard to tell!
    I have brown sandy colored trees I’ve been tapping that get more grey as the tree grows tall and my thickest tree does appear to have the beginning of the plating I’ve read about. Therefore, I was so sure they were maples but I still don’t know what kind because my trees are not older like all the pics I see. What do the younger trees bark look like? They are more than 12″ but please send me help. When I back up and look at all my trees in my little forest, these trees are lighter in color and stand out right away. These are the ones with maple leaves all around on the ground.
    Anyway, the neighbors must think me crazy as I’m always outside looking up at all the trees! Lol.
    Thank you and God bless all you do!
    Cheri

    • Hi Cheri, you can send me some photos if you’d like me to help you ID the trees. I’d need good quality pics of the leaves, bark, and buds. Also tell me what color(s) the leaves turn in fall. You can send photos to me at Janet (at) OurOneAcreFarm (dot) com.

  31. I have been making syrup for a few years. I have only six taps out so I don’t have a large amount of sap at any one time. I put my sap in an 18 Qt electric roaster at night and let it cook at high temp while I’m sleeping. This is done in my garage. I will fill next morning and let that cook down half way and then finish off in a steel pot on my turkey fryer. The electric roaster is slow, but I get no excess smoke flavor and I do not need to stoke a fire. It also cooks and I can tend to other maple syrup tasks,etc.

  32. Hi i have 175 taps so i built a 2 x 6 wood fire evaporator, the problem is i can t get the stainless steel pans to boil so the evaporating part is very poor,can you guys help me find the problem,instead of evaporating 40 liters an hour its only evap. 5 liters

  33. Hey Janet,
    Thought I would up date you. We ended up taping 50 trees (mostly soft maple) and so far have cooked out around 15 gallons of syrup. It has been fun remembering how it is done, How the weather effects the running of the sap etc. Had a big lesson this morning as we cooked down around 130 gal. of sap yesterday (Started at 8:00 am and finished at 11:00 pm.) So once we had it done we transferred it to the turkey fryer and stored it over night. I started up the fryer this morning to heat it up to about 200 so we could bottle it. Went outside and checked it it was at 185 so went back in the house for 5 minutes. Came back out and about half had boiled over. That sucked! But it brought back another memory. “When syrup is done it foams up and boils over” Now I remember! LOL I also remember how much everyone loves open fire maple syrup because we have given a lot away. But I enjoy doing that.

  34. Pingback: Water Bath Canning Recipes and Frequently Asked Questions

  35. I just opened a small jelly jar of our syrup and it looks like there is the making of sugar cane crystals or small peices of glass? This one jar is the only one I have seen that it has it in it. This jar also is the produce of my husband (god love him) accidently pushing g the top of the lid down causing it to not have a proper seal? Could anyone tell me what these peices are and if safe could I rebook it down again?

    • Hello,
      If it’s how I’m imagining… these are literally just chunks of sugar. The syrup was too sugary/dense before canning (I have had this happen a few times). On a Brix refractometer, maple syrup has at least 66% solids, up to 67% to 67.5%. Anything above 67.5% means crystals of sugar will form in the container. They are not harmful in any way and you can eat them or ignore them. I would not try to reboil it.

  36. Dear Janet,
    We recently purchased a house in VT that had already been set up with blue maple sap collection tubes. My wife and I decided that we’d try making some maple syrup, albeit we had no prior experience doing so. I put in the taps and after about 3 weeks, the 100-gallon holding tank was nearly full and I had to pull the taps early! Anyway, I have a few questions that came to mind during the processing part of making syrup:

    1) I noticed that when the sap reaches 219F, the boiling froth actually appears noticeably different. More importantly, I found that when the sap water content is sufficiently boiled off and you’re cooking it just a bit more to bring up the viscosity, you can’t stir it with a wooden spoon because it immediately froths over the side of the pot. I was stupid enough to try it again to see if this was just a glitch. My wooden had spoon appeared to be bone dry, so it didn’t seem to be moisture causing this to happen. I’m clueless. Anyway, after the mess I created, I was afraid to experiment with metal or silicon kitchen implements as an alternative to wood. Any thoughts on this?

    2) Our first batch was darker than typical Grade-A VT maple syrup, but you could still see through it easily with a backlight. I also noticed that after allowing it to settle, a very dark 1/2″-3/4″ layer would form at the bottom of the canning jar. This dark layer had no solids in it whatsoever, and the only way I was able to filter it out was to use a paper-type coffee filter. Once I collected this dark stuff from the jars, I tried tasting it and found that it was like maple candy! It had a better maple flavor than the lighter syrup did in my opinion. Do you have any idea what might have caused this denser and darker layer to form in the first place?

    3) I noticed your comment about how local environmental conditions can affect the outcome of the syrup. Maybe that would explain why our syrup has been so dark. As noted above, our first batch was darker than expected, but all subsequent batches have been noticeably darker or even black! FYI, we have boiled down all of our maple sap in the kitchen, so smoke is not the reason for this darkness. I will tell you that the bark on a smaller percentage of the trees in our “sugarbush” appears noticeably different than the bark on the majority of the tapped tree’s, which makes me think that the farmer who set this rig up was tapping different species of maple? What’s most important is that even the black versions are delicious, but they appear to be bottles of very dark black coffee, not maple syrup. Do you know of a filter that would make our syrup appear more appealing?

    3) The last question I have for you concerns bacteria. I know that the sap is boiled for a long time, but I’m still concerned about how long what remains in our holding tank will last before possibly taking on an unpleasant flavor, and I don’t know if I will need to flush out and sanitize the blue tubes before the next season comes around. Will bacteria affect the taste and finish of the final product?

    I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. Thank you, Scott.

    • Hi Scott,

      Not sure I have any definitive answers for you.

      1. Yes, it does froth up quickly and impressively when it’s just about done. I use a large enough pot so it can’t go up over the sides. I do not know why that happens, but it is typical.

      2. Could you have begun collecting sap a bit too late? When I did that, the sap was yellowish (a sign you should stop tapping), and when I boiled that yellowish sap, I ended up with a double layer of “syrup”, one darker than the other. I do not know what causes that but people usually stop tapping when the sap begins to turn yellow.

      3. It’s typical for each subsequent batch to be darker than the last. Always, the lightest, most delicately flavored is the 1st batch of the season. I don’t think you can filter it to lighten the color. The bark on sugar maples changes as the tree ages. On younger trees, it is smoother and sort of a brown-beige color. As the tree ages, it becomes grayer and rougher. An old sugar maple has thick gray bark with many rough scales and furrows. So I suspect the difference in bark appearance you are seeing has to do with the age of the trees. When the trees leaf out you should be able to identify them for certain. Just be aware that Norway maple has leaves very similar to those of sugar maple. You will have to use a field guide to bark, leaves, and twigs to distinguish between sugar maple and Norway maple.

      3. Yes, you should clean the tubing after you are done using it this year, and probably right before you use it next year. I don’t use tubing so I don’t know the best way to clean it. Since the sap is boiled for so long, I don’t think bacteria will make the syrup unsafe to eat, but it most likely will affect flavor and color.

      Hope that helps.

      Janet

    • 1. This is actually how I tell when the syrup is done. I rarely actually measure its temperature anymore since I can tell from the look of the bubbles. They become very fine and clump together, and just when the syrup is done, they begin to rise up in the pan. And yes, stirring can make them rise up even more at that point – I almost never stir my syrup. I skim off any foam only after I have shut the heat off and the bubbles have settled.

      2. The material in the layer you speak of is ‘Sugar Sand’ or niter. This is natural mineral content, mostly calcium derived, that precipitated out of the sap during boiling. Even if you filter it out, each time you re-boil, more sugar sand can form. It is harmless, does not hurt the taste of the syrup, and does not harm anything the syrup is used in. However, it can give a slight ‘texture’ to the bottom portion of syrup. It is usually filtered out for aesthetic purposes but I do not do this as I do not find it unpleasant and therefore I believe the step to be unnecessary.

      3. USUALLY, the lightest syrup is from the earliest boils. Dark syrup typically comes later in the season, as the sugar content in the sap is lower and requires longer boiling to turn into syrup. However, if a batch of syrup is boiled for a particularly long time as in it had water mixed into it or had more and more sap added to it to keep it going, this too can result in a darker product. Additionally, as you noted, boiling method can affect color – I boil over wood and this automatically makes my syrup a stage or two darker due to it taking a little longer plus the effects of the smoke etc.; when I boiled on natural gas I usually had more than 50-60 percent of my syrup turning out light. I actually much prefer dark so as a result I much prefer wood fire. Regarding your comment about other types of maple, it’s fine to mix the species of maple, and most can be successfully tapped as far as I know. Sugar maple is just the most sugary sap so it takes less to turn into syrup. Different species should not significantly make your syrup darker/lighter, however I have found that I do not prefer the flavor of my Silver Maples’ sap and so I now purposely do not tap them. Filtering – I filter through plain old white sackcloths, which takes out any leftover small debris, tiny pieces of ash or char, etc. but it does NOT remove the sugar sand/niter. If you want to remove all the sugar sand and make a totally clear product, there are several types of commercially available filters.

      4. You should notice a change in color or smell of the sap before you’ll have to worry about noticing a change in flavor in the syrup. I have always had a much larger issue with yeasts (fungi) than I have with bacteria. Yeasts ferment the sap, which makes the sap cloudy/whitish, sometimes with the appearance of strings floating in it, and if left too long it will smell alcoholic. I have successfully made syrup out of lightly fermented sap on several occasions. However, if it is too fermented, the finished product will have an off flavor… usually I would say this off flavor for me is ‘fruity’ (but not in a good way). The only time I have had a bacteria issue is at the end of this past season after a very long streak of unseasonably warm weather. The sap in the buckets got a similar cloudy appearance, though the buckets themselves had what appeared to be a light pinkish or reddish film on their surfaces. The sap smelled and tasted mostly alright, so I boiled it. The finished product tasted fine, but it was what is called ‘ROPEY’… when poured or spooned, the syrup comes off in slight sheets/strings. This type of ropiness is minor, serviceable, and I can still use the syrup for myself. However, severe ropiness can result in a product that can be almost gelatin-like! If the temperature of the storage area is cool, sap will last for many days. If it looks clear, smells fresh, and tastes fine, it’s definitely fine to boil. And yes, you absolutely must flush out and sanitize any tubing before the next season.

    • Also RE: my belief that #2 is sugar sand – my sugar-sandy syrups are generally always quite clear and can easily have a light put through them as well; when it is fresh the sugar sand just appears as a dark or hazy layer at the bottom of the jar. You would most likely not notice the ‘solids’ nature of the sugar sand unless the jar sat for several months and it was fully settled to the bottom, as any texture it has is a very very fine texture in most cases. Also, sugar sand can most definitely be darker in color as opposed to light or white; I usually only have light sugar sand if my syrup is very light also.

      I cannot think of anything else that would cause this effect at the moment. Perhaps some other type of impurity I have not seen.

      • Thanks for all your input. The reason I thought what he was describing was not niter, is because he said there were no solids in that layer. I notice the solid nature of sugar sand within minutes after jarring the syrup. Also, I have only seen it be light in color. Any dark solids in my syrup taste charry, never sweet. Only the whitish solids, in my syrup, taste sweet. I wasn’t sure what he was describing, and thought it sounded like 2 different liquid layers, which is what I get when I boil sap that I collected too late. Not sure – maybe he will come back and clarify.

        • I am sure sugar sand can vary, too, and especially with such a variable system as mine where the wood I’m using and conditions I’m cooking under are always changing. I don’t usually notice my sugar sand at all until the jars have settled for some time, and surely not at first. It might look a little hazy down there within the first few hours, but if I taste it right away there’s barely anything detectable other than the color change. I’ve also never noticed much of a difference in the flavor of my sugar sand be it darker or lighter in color. However, I am also very preferential toward the dark and slightly smoky stuff, and it’s possible I like or do not notice some things other people would not like or be really put off by!

          I would like to see a photo of this 2 layer syrup if you ever make it again as I always like to see what interesting things people come across. Even when I collect very late or even buddy sap I’ve never seen this happen. For me, late sap just turns out weirdly thick/viscous or with a funky ‘chocolatey’ or ‘wet dog’ off flavor and smell.

          Another thought I had: if I made one batch of room temperature plain/good syrup, and then mixed it with a batch of room temperature ropey/bacterial syrup, it might be possible for an effect like this to happen. Not sure. I would suspect that if it isn’t sugar sand, though, that it’d have something to do with that – which is kind of what you suggested. I say room temperature because I’m not sure it’d happen if it was hot, I think in that case it’d all just mix and turn a little ropey, but I’ve never tested it so I don’t have all the answers!

          • I don’t have a photo of the 2 layer syrup. It has happened to me twice, in separate years, and both times I was working with late sap. It was not pooled with any other sap, and it was fresh. I knew the yellowish sap was late and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to make syrup out of it. I tossed the “syrup” because like I said, it was in 2 separate layers, and it also didn’t taste very good. It has been so long that I don’t remember exactly what it tasted like, so cannot describe it.

            Sugar sand is usually easy for me to see shortly after jarring the syrup. First cloudiness, as you say, and then it quickly settles. I have definitely seen those solids when syrup is still quite hot. But back to the guy who asked the question — I am really not sure what he was describing.

  37. Hi, your post is so very interesting! I’m Italian and I love maple syrup but it is so hard and expensive to find, so I’ll try and do what you described here! I have 2 beautiful Norway maples in our garden, and our climate is really warm, do you think it could work anyway? I mean, sugar maples and red maples aren’t easy to find, Norway type could work anyway? Thank you! 😊

    • I have never tapped norway maple, but have read that maple syrup can be made from its sap. However, the sap is more dilute, and you have to boil off about twice as much water as you do to make syrup from the sap of sugar maple.

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