Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Great Syrup Experiment

So we tapped our maple trees.

And the sap flowed for a day.

And then it got super cold and stayed that way.


It looks like the sap should start flowing again today, but now we're headed for warmer daytime weather (yay!) but above-freezing nights (boo!), so that may again temporarily kill our syrup-making endeavors (which, by the way, has grown to tapping other people's trees, to the tune of about 40 buckets... yikes!).

But that one day of sap flow left us with a bucket-full of sap. We actually drank some of it. It was quite sweet-- yummy for brewing tea or coffee or making lemonade. Even after drinking a small amount, there was still three gallons or so in the bucket. Not to waste it, I put it in a big pot on the back of the woodstove and let it slowly evaporate.

This big pot was full to the brim, plus a little topping up:

By last night, it was mostly cooked down and making my house smell very sugary ("Are you making CAKE?" Nathan asked excitedly when he walked in the door). I mixed up some sourdough with dreams of pancakes swimming in freshly made syrup from our own trees. And I set out to finish the syrup.

It cooked, got very thick, and I tried to watch the temperature. I was told it be syrup when it reaches 220 degrees.

It reached that...

but it wasn't dark at all...

so I...

kept cooking it.

That's right, folks. If you know anything at all about cooking sugar, you'll know that I, in all my over-eager homesteaderness, made taffy.


The whole neighborhood will be laughing when word gets out.

So I added some water and called it done.

We ended up with a whole pint! Here it is, with Nathan giving it bunny-ears:

Yeah, it doesn't look much like maple syrup does it? It's more the color of honey. And... it tastes like caramelized corn syrup.

We did eat it on our pancakes this morning, but it really wasn't that enjoyable, other than being very sweet. We also figured out that the sap to syrup ration was about 25:1 instead of 40:1.

So we've been troubleshooting what went "wrong". Our conclusion is that a combination of the facts that our trees have never been tapped and this was the very first little bit of sap from the whole season led to an unusually high sugar content and low maple flavor and color (which apparently develops more when trees are tapped repeatedly).

So much for that.

Onward and upward!

The rest of our sap will be mixed with that of our neighbors and will probably be from trees that have been tapped before, so we're hoping round 2 will be more successful.


  1. Good try! and as they say, "live and learn."

    Here's what I read in an Azure Standard book last night: "The grades roughly correspond to what point in the season the syrup was made. U.S. Grade A Light Amber is early season syrup, while U.S. Grade B is late season syrup. Typically Grade A (especially Grade A Light Amber ) has a milder, more delicate flavor than Grade B, which is darker with a robust flavor. The dark grades of syrup are primarily used for cooking and baking."

    Seems to go with your experience. Though another book also said more about new trees and previously tapped trees.

    Very interesting!

  2. Live and learn experimenting is of especially if it's free minus all the labor. Your neighbors that are up there know what they are talking about.

  3. hey- that's really interesting. i'm just impressed that you guys tried!