Have you ever wanted to know how to make homemade maple syrup? We have some great tips below.
How to make homemade maple syrup
Hi! We’re collecting sap for homemade maple syrup! Last year, we had a ridiculous challenge for growing most of our produce and pantry items from our suburban home. We called it the “Grow Your Own Challenge” and it started by maple syrup. You can read more about it on our other blog; Dan330.com. This year we are doing it again, but with some improvements. This article has everything you need to know about why we and how to make homemade maple syrup.
The tradition of making syrup is very old. Simply said, take sap from maple trees and boil it down to syrup then bottle it. Last time I checked the price for a quart is usually in the $12-15 range at farmers markets.
Making homemade maple syrup is really about two things; the quality of food we eat, and being self-sufficient. The highly processed stuff that is commercially available and called syrup is very inexpensive, so we aren’t saving a lot of money and we certainly aren’t saving time. But we will have authentic maple syrup that came right from our (and our neighbors) yard and should be much healthier and much tastier!
I am not a nutritionist, but we can all use common sense.
Let’s take a quick look at the back of the bottle in the fridge: “Ingredients: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, contains less than 2% salt, cellulose gum, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, citric acid.”
On the other hand, pure maple syrup is made out of Maple sap. That’s it! Recently, pure maple syrup was declared a superfood because of its high level of anti-oxidants among other things.
“Tests on the syrup, which is made by boiling sap from the maple tree, found that it contains compounds which could help manage Type 2 diabetes, as well as acting as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents.”
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How many maple tree taps does my family need to make homemade maple syrup?
So what do we need as a family? The goal is to try to produce as much as we can naturally. I casually observed that my family goes through about a pint of syrup every week on average. 52 pints per year would total 6.5 gallons of syrup. With a sap to syrup ratio of about 40:1 that would mean we need about 260 gallons of sap. However, last year we made much less than this and still have a little left. We found that the kids (and adults) use far less natural maple syrup than store bought syrup. I would guess that my families consumption of the syrup was 1/3 to 1/2 of what we did before. This is mostly due to the fact that pure maple syrup is a lot stonger.
Each tree tap should produce 10-20 gallons of sap per season. Basically, if you run your taps the whole season, you will get approximately 1.5 quarts of homemade maple syrup per tap.
How to tap maple trees for homemade maple syrup.
First, you need to identify a maple tree. Maple Trees come in several varieties and pretty much any will work. I tap sugar maples. A friend of mine taps silver maples. We have both had great luck with these. There is only one kind of maple tree that I have had bad luck with. I tried an amur maple last year and it produced nothing so avoid those if you can. Some trees will have higher sugar content like the sugar maple so these may be slightly less work as you won’t have to boil down the sap as much. But to me, this is not a big deal. Who cares if you have to wait another 1 hour to boil down another bucket of sap. In the big picture, it just doesn’t matter to me.
It is important to understand how many taps to put into any given tree as well. I linked to a Minnesota DNR pdf document that explains this well. I took a screenshot of part of it for this post below for quick reference. Make sure you follow these guidelines you don’t want to damage the trees!
You don’t have to buy expensive maple syrup systems. I ended up buying sveral taps at my local hardware store for about $3.50 each. They were from tapmytrees.com. I recommend them. They work great and I am getting a use out of them again my second year.
I have a quick video here to show to easily and quickly tap your tree:
First, drill a hole in the tree that is slanted slightly up as it is drilled so the sap runs out of the hole. The bit should be a 7/16 bit and it should go in three inches.
The hole will look like this:
Gently tap the tap with a hammer. Be careful not to do this too hard on small trees or you risk splitting them.
You can buy buckets that are made to hang on the hooks on the taps but together they were about $20 for each tap. Instead, I went to Home Depot and bought a bunch of 5-gallon buckets, some maple syrup bags (if you aren’t using food-grade buckets), and a bit of hose. This cost under $4 per tap.
Then I took a 3/4 inch hose and cut it to about 8 inches long.
I made a hole in the top of each lid that was just big enough for the hose to fit through.
When this system is all put together, the sap runs from the tap, through the hose, and down into my bucket while keeping most rain, snow, and other junk out. This is a pretty slick and inexpensive to set up your taps.
Turning your sap into homemade maple syrup.
If you like tv, you can just watch the quick video here. Otherwise, read on…
Making your syrup is not hard, it just takes a lot of time. Here’s what I learned from last year: don’t go all “oooh, that fire is too big.” Impossible. You could do this over a burning house and it would be fine. I started my tasteful little project like this:
Cute, huh? Well I went to bed in the wee hours of the mourn’ because what I needed was a fire like this:
When I finally got a fire that was big enough, the syrup making got a lot better.
I was collecting sap from my buckets using a cooler to transport it. This is what it looks like when it comes out of the tree. This technique worked pretty well. The lid on the cooler kept it from sloshing out and the handles made it easy to carry or move in the back of a car.
Keep your fire going strong and continue to pour your sap into the pans as they boil down. Eventually, they will start to look thicker and a little darker. I was really surprised by how gross the sap looked. It was foamy, cloudy, and had white chunks all over it. The first time I tried, I serisously thought I messed it up. But don’t worry. This is normal.
Use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the sap. It will top out at 212 degrees as long as there is water in it. When the temperature starts rising above that, I pulled it indoors to finish on a stove. (Many of the blogs and articles I read say to heat it to about 119 degrees then bring it in to finish. That would work too.) Tap My Trees, and the Minnesota DNR were good resources to help you out.
I highly recommend pre-filtering out all the gunk from the sap trays through a coffee filter as you pour it into the finishing pots. See how gross and cloudy the pot on the left is? This is what the sap looks like outside too. I scooped out of this pot and ran it through the coffee filter into the new pot on the right. This took care of the majority of the cloudiness.
Continue to boil the sap down until the temperature rose to about 218-221 degrees.
At this point, you can get a hydrometer to check the maple syrup density. I bought one at a local store for about $15. It was very easy. It was designed for maple syrup and had two marks on the scale, one to measure density when the syrup is hot, the other when it is cool. Just keep boiling the syrup until the hydrometer measures to the hot mark.
If the density of the syrup is too think, you run the risk of it crystalizing in your cans, and if it is too thin, there is too much water in it and you risk mold, yeast and other bad stuff growing in your bottles. So this is an important part of the process. I highly recommend you read the MN DNR or other food safety sheet on making the syrup.
How to filter and can your homemade maple syrup
When the syrup is the right density, it is time to filter and can your syrup. First, what not to do. I didn’t have a filter for my first ever batch. This is what it looked like:
This bottle was bottled right after boiling and was only pre-filtered using the coffee filter. What you see settled on the bottom is sugar sand; hardened minerals that naturally occur in the tree sap.Kind of gross, right? I re-processed this with the next batch and ran it through the filter.
Take your boiling hot syrup and pour it through a syrup bag. I also purchased this filter from a local store, but you can find syrup filter bags all over the internet too.
The key to this step is to pour the syrup hot so it flows. If the temperature drops below 180 degrees during filtering, just re-heat if to between 180 and 200 degrees before bottling. If you heat it above 200, you run the risk of making new sugar sand. Here’s a great pdf on how to use and care for a filter bag.
All we had to do to start the filtering was to hold the bag above a pot, then pour in the syrup.
You can see for yourself that it worked great. It took about 10 minutes for our pre-filtered syrup to make it through the bag. By the way, it did catch all of the sugar sand I showed you earlier. This is what the new bottles looked like:
As long as you pour the syrup into clean jars while it is still hot you shouldn’t need to do anything more than close the lid and store it in a dark place. Ours has lasted all year and we are very excited to be starting our new batches already.
If you enjoy making your own foods, please check out our other posts too!
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- Crabapple Jelly
- Maple Syrup
- Drying Herbs from the Garden
- Preserved Roasted Tomatoes
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- Dill Pickle
- Creme Fraiche