Have you ever wondered where maple syrup comes from? Read on to learn about the process of making maple syrup!
Maple syrup is produced from maple tree sap. There are 100 species of maple trees. We use sugar maples, but syrup can be made from almost all species in the maple family.
Mid-to-late January we tap the trees using a 5/16 drill bit to make a small hole and tap a plastic spile into it. The spile is connected to 5/16 plastic tubing. Once a tree is 12 inches in diameter it can support a single tap. As the tree grows, additional taps can be added. We cap our trees at 3 per tree. A single line can support 5-6 taps and then connects to a ¾ or larger line. This larger line carries sap to a collection tank. The sap lines are carefully strung through the woods to maximize gravitational pull to carry sap through the lines. All of our lines also have a vacuum pump attached to increase sap collection efficiency. Once the collection tank is at least half-full, the sap is either pumped or hauled to the sugar house and placed into another collection tank.
The sap is 1-2 % sugar when it leaves the tree; the syrup is 66% sugar. To increase the sugar content the sap is boiled until it reaches 66%. Historically, boiling sap would take a very long time; occasionally the fire would run for 2 days. Our farm uses a reverse osmosis machine (RO) to remove 80-85% of the water. So for every 100 gallons of sap we have 15-20 gallons of concentrate to boil into syrup.
After the sap is processed by the RO, it is boiled in a large wood-fired evaporator.
The sap’s initial sugar content determines how much sap it takes to make a gallon of syrup. We use “The Rule of 86” to calculate gallons of sap to gallons of syrup. If the sap content is 2%, then it takes 43 gallons to make a gallon of syrup.
Sugar content can be estimated by the temperature of the liquid in the evaporator. Typically sap becomes syrup at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water. As sap reaches the syrup stage, sugar content is tested using a hydrometer. Once the hydrometer confirms it is the correct sugar content; we note the temperature and set up the automatic draw-off. The automatic draw-off will open and close 1/10 of a degree above and below the set point. Sugar content is checked periodically as the boiling point can change throughout the day.
Once the syrup is drawn off, it drains into a small container. We add diatomaceous earth (DE) to the syrup, then run it through a high-pressure filter press which removes solids and sugar sand making a clearer and better tasting syrup. After filtering syrup is barreled for bottling at a later time.