It has been many years since I have participated in the making of maple syrup. But I still remember the buckets of clear liquid that we would gather and dump into a large pot on the back of our kitchen stove.
My favorite part? The smell of the syrup being cooked down. It smells so heavenly!!!
You can almost taste the sweet, velvet-like substance in the kitchen as it nears perfection. While the smell is similar to cinnamon rolls baking in the oven, it also reminds me of the smells exactly like a cake my Mother used to bake when I was growing up. To this day, I still call it the “maple syrup cake”. And since my birthday is in March, I would often request this delicacy as my birthday cake. Honestly though, it has been many years since I have thought of that cake, and the smell of maple syrup. But these thoughts didn’t stay lost forever!
All these memories have come back to flood my memory this year, because my husband decided he wanted to try his hand at making our very own maple syrup! I have to confess that I have contributed very little to this recent endeavor, but of course that has not lessened my excitement to try it again.
Thinking back on my memories, I think one of the big reasons that my parents stopped making their own maple syrup was because we would cook it indoors (which I’ve learned recently you should NEVER do lol) and the condensation was awful!
So, when my husband began researching the process to produce this delicious maple syrup, I was very happy to see that part of that process was making a big barrel stove to cook the syrup outside, called an evaporator stove.
Building the Evaporator
My very talented husband made this evaporator stove out of one of those 50 gallon steel barrels. I think it turned out really cute! (Though I’m sure that is not how my husband would describe it!)
Then he, along with my father, proceeded to go out and tap various maple trees on the property. This year they bought a bunch of blue 5 gallon storage containers (they were used food grade liquid containers from local juice factories) and washed them out. They seem to work really well and do a great job of collecting the maple sap and still keeping bugs and other debris out (definitely important if we want to consume the syrup!).
After tapping the trees and collecting some sap, they realized on some of the trees, they forgot to put the tap on the south to southwest side, so those aren’t producing as much sap in the buckets. (Don’t I sound intelligent?! They had to explain that a few times to me… oh well!) My husband explained to me it is best to tap the trees on the south side that the sun hits most of the day. You will get a lot more sap that way.
Once the first batch of sap was collected, they put it on our new (and cute LOL) evaporator stove and began boiling it down. It took a bit to get the hang of keeping the fire and heat as consistent as possible, but if you can keep the syrup at a rolling boil, it goes much quicker.
They were able to boil down 29 gallons of syrup in one day on the second sap collection over only 19 on the first one! It’s amazing to see all that water boiling and evaporating off, and watching the color slowly morph into darker color as it gets more and more concentrated to syrup.
Once the sap has been boiled down enough to reach a light brown/amber color, we then take it off the heat and bring it inside and boil it down the rest of the way. This is SO MUCH better than doing all this first step inside on the kitchen stove! Wow, what a difference it makes to not have the mess inside!
The first batch took about two to three hours to finish the process. The second batch was boiled down further at the end while it was still outside, and so even though it was more, it actually took less time once on the kitchen stove. The whole time it smells so sweet and syrupy! I did get involved more with this final boiling process, and learned that for it to be complete and pure maple syrup, it has to reach 7 degrees above boiling. So, at our altitude pretty much at sea level (it varies if you are at a higher altitude), that is about 219 degrees. This part of the process seems long because you have to monitor it very close. As soon as it hits this temp, it HAS to be removed from the heat, or it will burn. This is because as soon as the water is gone, the heat then is boiling the actual sugar.
Then using a cheese cloth or a strainer, we pour it into our syrup containers (and have thoughts and dreams of how awesome it’s going to taste)!
The next step? Can anyone say pancakes smothered in PURE MAPLE SYRUP??!!!