Freshly collect maple sap before boiling: wild tree water!
Above is our wild tree water: the fresh sap collected from maple trees. It looks and has the consistency of water, but tastes slightly sweet. Maple water is a true spring elixir! We loved drinking it just like this: I filled my water bottles with it and we used it as a base for our smoothies. Heated up it makes an excellent base for teas as well (sweet teas!) But really it is only slightly sweet, and if you are used to drinking sweet things like soda pop you may think it just tastes like water.
At first we boiled it down on the stove, which has many drawbacks, especially if making a whole season worth of syrup. You need to boil it for a very long time, so that uses a lot of gas or electricity. It also puts off a lot (!) of moisture, so your wallpaper (if you have it) may peel and your home will become quite humid. Outdoor cooking is ideal. We cooked it outdoors and boiled it way down, then took it inside to finish, because at the end you want to watch it and make sure it doesn’t burn.
boiling the sap into syrup
You can use a wood fire outside, but our good friend Joe brought over his propane beer making keg, which worked fantastically!
Propane beer making "keg" which we used to boil down the syrup
Here you can see the sap inside, as we were heating it to a boil:
sap heating up in the cooker - looks like water
The beer making keg had a thermometer, which allowed us to see that it did boil at 212 F. If you are in the mountains this may be different.
Boiling at 212 F
We drained off the cooked sap, but it was still not quite finished. We took it inside to boil it for another hour or so until it became syrup. You will know it is syrup because the color darkens, and the property of the boiling changes: it looks like little fizzy bubbles coming up through a thicker liquid. You have to watch because at this point it can boil over.
draining off boiled sap to finish inside
Also, if you have a cooking thermometer, the syrup is done when the temperature goes up 7 degrees from the boiling point (in our case, it went up to 219 degrees.)
The syrup may turn out lighter or darker than you expect, and even from batch to batch. Here is our syrup on the left (lighter) versus some grade B store bought syrup:
Our syrup (left) is much lighter in color than the store bought syrup on the right.
Another fun thing to do is make maple candies. I poured off all but about a cup of syrup, and kept the final cup simmering on the stove. I stirred it fairly constantly for about 45 more minutes. It kept almost boiling over, but when I stirred it would calm down. When it reached 234 degrees it boiled way up and I knew it was done. I poured it off and make little candies, which were not hard candy, but molds of maple sugar.
maple sugar candies
We enjoyed our maple syrup adventure so much!!
Two books I used which helped me with this process are:
Thanks so much to Tracey whose trees we tapped and who offered us a place to stay for the better part of a week, and Joe for all his help and for the use of his beer making keg. What a wonderful week of connecting with friends and nature.
You can also read about how we made our own spiles and how we actually tapped the trees in the past couple blog updates.
Hope you are all enjoying the earth’s awakening! We are also waking up and getting ready for the emergence of many wild edibles. I bet Wintercress is already out there. We have a surprise for you coming soon so stay tuned!
Lots of love and light and life!
Melissa Sokulski of Food Under Foot