Make Maple Syrup (Part 3): The Boil

Now that you’ve tapped your trees and collected sap, it’s time to make syrup!

The General Process

Boiling sap down to syrup sounds pretty easy—and it is—but there are a few things to be ready for in advance. First, it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. An average yield is about 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of syrup, although the actual amount will vary depending on the sugar content of your sap (as well as whether you tapped any red maple trees—either accidentally or on purpose!). This means that an awful lot of water needs to be boiled off and the boiling process will take a long time. It also means that you’ll want to boil outside so that you don’t steam up your kitchen to the point that it resembles a sauna.

syrupingcollage
Making syrup at the neighborhood sugar shack.

The sap will become syrup when the temperature reaches a little over 219 degrees and the liquid reaches about 66% sugar content. If you stop before this point, your syrup will be runny and may not store as well. Boil past this point and your syrup could form sugar crystals—or worse, you could scorch the syrup in the pan and have a mess on your hands. This just means that you need to pay a bit of attention to your sap as it boils, especially toward the end.

Read the instructions and then get all the supplies that you’ll need ready before you start. Why? Because you don’t want to get to the end and have your syrup ready, only to realize that you don’t have any clean jars to put it in!

The Boil

You’ll want to collect at least 10 gallons of sap before you begin, and potentially a lot more depending on how the size of your boiling pan (or pot).

If you haven’t already, filter the sap to remove sticks and other debris. Then pour a few inches of sap into your pan. You’ll want to maintain at least 1.5” of sap in the pan at all times to prevent the sap from scorching.

Build a fire under your pan, bringing the sap up to a boil. Add wood (or fuel) as needed to keep the temperature consistent. Maintaining a steady, rolling boil will help to produce a higher-quality, lighter syrup.

As water evaporates from the pan, you’ll add more syrup to maintain keep at least that 1.5” of sap in the pan.

During the boiling process, the sap will foam. Skim the foam from the surface of the sap as it builds up. If a lot of foam boils up, you can put a little butter or oil on a utensil and run it through the foam to knock it down.

Keep going! I told you it would take a while!

Is it Syrup Yet?

As the water evaporates, the sugars in the sap will concentrate and the boiling liquid will be come thicker and sweeter. As you get closer to having syrup, you’ll be able to tell that it’s thickening.

My neighbor Sarahs sweet syrup stash!
My neighbor Sarah’s sweet syrup stash!

When you get to this point, you’ll want to pay really close attention. You may want to reduce the heat of your fire to have more control over the boil. You may also want to move the sap into a smaller pot for this “finishing” step. Having a candy thermometer can be helpful at this point to tell you if the liquid is approaching 219 degrees, although it’s not necessary.

The major clue that you have syrup is that it will “apron” when it’s ready. Try this: dip a spoon into the liquid, remove it quickly, and watch how it comes off the spoon. Does it drip off the spoon? It’s not ready. It’s ready when it rolls off the spoon in a continuous ribbon or sheet. You can also use a tool called a hygrometer to measure the sugar content.

At that point, its reached the syrup state and you’re ready to filter it. Run the hot syrup (be careful—it’s boiling hot!) through a coffee filter or special syrup filter.

Nicely done! You did it!

If you make more syrup than you will use in a few months, you can move hot syrup into sterilized jars or bottles for storing at room temperature and giving away as gifts. It can also be stored in the freezer and heated up at any time.

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