Sunday, March 28, 2010
Making Maple Syrup
A friend of ours who's "yard" is about an acre and mostly wooded invited us over to see how maple syrup is made. She comes from a long line of maple syrup makers; her Dad's family up in Michigan's U.P. makes and sells it as a business. Her dad comes down each spring to help her with their trees and he gave us a great maple syrup lesson.
Only certain types of maples are used for good quality syrup. I bought some real Michigan maple syrup in the store last year, only to find it very dark and bitter tasting. I was wondering what all the hype was; it tasted awful! Now I know that sap from less desirable types of maple trees, and sap that is collected late in the season, will be darker and not very sweet. Sap that sits too long before being boiled can also turn bitter. That type of syrup should be marked as B Grade, but mine didn't specify that. So, don't buy really dark or B Grade maple syrup!
Okay, first the trees are tapped to obtain the sap. Did you know that sap is clear? It tastes like lightly sweetened water. I always thought it was brown! It takes 40 gallons of sap to make just 1 gallon of syrup! Sap flow is the highest after a hard freeze, after which nights are below freezing and days are sunny and in the 40's. Sap flow only lasts for 3 to 4 weeks. So the right temperatures at the right time highly affect how much syrup can be made each year.
Next, the buckets of sap from the tree are poured into larger containers until it's ready to be boiled.
Finally, the sap is boiled for a few hours until it is reduced down to the brown, thicker liquid known as maple syrup. That's it! Our friend boils it in a huge, rectangular stainless steel "pot" over a wood fire outside.