My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Maple Syrup Time

So, it’s that time of year (March as I write this)—buckets have appeared on maple trees all over Amish Indiana.  It’s time to make maple syrup!  Ads are appearing in The People’s Exchange for maple syrup supplies, and posters can be seen all over town for maple syrup festivals, maple syrup cooking demonstrations, and other ways to celebrate the spring ritual.

I wondered how maple syrup is made, so I looked to
I found out that sugar maples are the best trees to tap, but black, red, or silver maples also work.  The sap starts to flow in February or March, and the best weather is alternating warm and cold—it gets the sap flowing.  Trees should be 12” in diameter or more, and bigger trees can have multiple taps.  The sap typically flows for four to six weeks, and tapping stops when the temperatures remain above freezing and the leaves start to come out.

The basics are simple:  Drill a upwards-slanting hole 2 to 2.5 inches deep, then hammer in the metal tap and hang a clean bucket from the hook on the tap.  (The photo below uses a different kind of taps.)  Sap starts to flow immediately, and it looks like water.  It may drip slowly, or it may fill a bucket in a day or two.

Then it’s just a matter of collecting the sap buckets, filtering out the impurities, then boiling off the excess water, which turns the maple sap into maple syrup.  The syrup is done when it’s thick and golden.  The sap-to-syrup ratio varies, depending on who you ask—some sources say as little as 10-to-1, but most say much more.  Someone at our church makes a few gallons of maple syrup every year, and he gave us a pint the other day.  I asked him how many gallons of sap it took to make a gallon of syrup, and he said it took forty!

One caution—don’t try this in the kitchen!  This warning comes from Rink Mann on 

The main thing about making maple syrup is you have to boil off about 32 quarts of water in the form of steam to end up with one quart of maple syrup.  That means that if you’re boiling down a batch some Saturday afternoon on the kitchen stove and are aiming for three quarts of syrup, you’re going to put about 24 gallons of water into the air before the boiling’s done.  Unless you’ve got one powerful exhaust fan, you’ll end up with water streaming down the walls and enough steam to impair visibility across the room.  And, when things finally do clear, you’re apt to find the wallpaper lying on the floor.  Then, too, even if the batch doesn’t boil over, which it can, the sugar spray from all that furious boiling gets all over the stove and is harder than blazes to get off.  So, if you want to maintain a measure of domestic tranquility, it’s best to do your boiling outside, or in a handy garage or shed.

Rink also has a great step-by-step guide to making maple syrup in your own back yard (see the above link).

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