The History and Making of Maple Syrup
The exact point in history of which maple syrup was first discovered is not known for sure. However, when Europeans came to North America and were brought in contact with the Eastern Woodland Native American Tribes, their writings began to report stories about the cooking and consumption of maple syrup. It was said that during the 19th century, maple syrup gained wide popularity within American and Canadian colonies becoming the household sweetener opposed to refined cane sugar, molasses, or raw sugar. One makes maple syrup by cutting a small incision in a Maple Tree and collecting the sap that runs out. After the sap has been collected, it is then cooked and turned into a sweet syrup. Follow the three steps below for the entire maple syrup making process.
Step #1 Finding and Tapping the Tree
Only Sugar Maple, Hard Maple, or Rock Maple Trees can be utilized as sources to extract sap worthy of making maple syrup. The tree you choose must be over thirty years old and exhibit a trunk of more than 12 inches in diameter to be able to be ‘tapped’ for sap. It is said that Springtime is the best time for ‘sugaring’ as nights are crisp and cold while days are warm and sunny. Trees can not be tapped during the winter because their nutrients will be mobilized and can cause off-flavored syrups.
To tap the tree you must cut an incision deep enough to reach the trees sap core. You will know you have reached this core as sap will ooze out of the tree freely at this point. A tapping incision can be made by hammering a special sap funnel into the tree that allows sap to flow through it, as soon as it is inserted deep enough. Make sure to bring a bucket or canister to collect your sap in.
Step #2 Cooking the Sap
Sap is typically boiled in a well ventilated, uninsulated ‘sugarhouse’. This special house is big enough to cook large amounts of maple syrup at one time by either wood or oil within an evaporator. Sugarhouses are typically located on hillsides near an accessible road. However, if you desire to make your own sap at home, you must obtain an evaporator and make sure to keep your home well ventilated at all times for your own personal safety. Remember, sap is highly perishable and must be boiled almost immediately after collection to make a high grade syrup.
An evaporator is required to heat sap and release large amounts of steam to create syrup. Evaporators are commonly comprised of a an arch firebox, compatible with an oil burner or wood fire, positioned directly underneath partitioned pans. Sugar Making evaporators are usually 5 or 6 ft. wide and 16 ft. long. As the sap begins to be heated by the evaporator it will dance throughout the pan steadily and continuously, increasing in sugar density and thickness. More cold sap should be fed throughout the heating process in a constant drizzle allowing float valves to maintain the correct fluid levels. Once the syrup is finish, at about 217 degrees Fahrenheit, it will be taken off the evaporator and filtered thoroughly.
The rich flavor found within maple syrup is created during the boiling process. Thus, cooking the syrup for the correct amount of time is vital. Over cooking the syrup will cause the sap to caramelize or darken to a much lower grade. In some cases your maple syrup can even burn, ruining an entire batch of sap. To test your syrup for doneness, hold a scoop of the syrup above the pan and observe it as it drips back in. As you observe the syrup you will want to watch for a term known as ‘aproning’. Aproning is when the syrup drips from the scoop in a steady and slow sheet or curtain. A hydrometer or thermometer can be utilized to ensure your syrup reaches the proper density.
Once you have filtered your syrup you will want to let it cool to around 180 degrees fahrenheit. After it has dropped in temperature, it should be stored in either a glass or metal container. Old fashioned metal cans are perfectly fine for storage purposes. However, most maple syrup makers enjoy storing their batches in glass containers to view the syrups beauty and reflect upon their work.