Making maple syrup can be done using anything from very basic homemade equipment to expensive, highly sophisticated equipment using reverse osmosis and everything in between.
A few years ago I helped a neighbour make maple syrup at the farm she grew up on. Sue and her brother Ivan use mainly home made equipment but well thought out. They hang buckets on the trees and empty the sap into a reservoir tank on the back of the tractor. The tractor is driven just up the hill behind the sap house and sap is fed through hoses powered by gravity down to the evaporating pans. They have two boilers, one outside and the other in the sap house. Each boiler is topped by a series of four evaporating pans decreasing in size and each one at a slightly lower level. The sap starts in the largest and highest pan and is then ladled through each of the pans until it is almost finished in the final and smallest pan. This smallest pan is then poured into a pot to be finished on the wood cookstove. The syrup is then filtered and jarred.
|Ivan's tractor just above the sap house|
|The system of four evaporating pans with the homemade ladle, this boiler is in the sap house|
|Sue ladling sap into the final evaporating pan on the outside boiler (notice her sleeveless top )|
The first step was to go to Dave and Amanda's and tap the trees. Alex had picked up a beautiful antique drill but after the exertion of tapping two trees by hand she was relieved to be able to borrow Dave's power drill. The drill bit for tapping trees is 5/16" but with an unusual head.
Alex's next challenge was getting wood for the boiler. Slab wood is used and she was able to buy cedar and hemlock from our neighbour, Ivan. She cut it to length in situ with our chainsaw and then stored it at our place. When the time came to start making syrup she loaded the wood into the back of her truck and supplemented that wood by cutting up a dead elm which had come down last fall in our front yard.
|Alex beside the truck filled with slabs of cedar and hemlock|
|The appropriately outfitted lumberjack working on the dead elm|
|Scylla and Thea show a keen interest in this aspect of the process|
|Making the trek over to the sap house|
|Josh with his 5 gallon pail filled with sap and the sap house in the background|
|Diane and Josh making their way out of the woods|
|The tapped maple trees along the lane|
|The boiler is fired up|
|The evaporator pan filled with sap|
|Our chili and rice lunch warming up, two pots of almost finished sap and on the right, beside the evaporator pan, a couple of coffee tins preheating fresh sap before being added to the pan.|
Trying to identify these various signs feels a lot more like magic than science. But then that is the charm - and the art - of backyard maple sugaring. It's not a lab after all. Just as well too since by the end of the day white lab coats would definitely be the worse for wear - I was covered with soot; my hands, my gloves, my face, my clothes. And that, of course, was when my nose became unbearably itchy.
|Waiting for the alchemy of sap to syrup on the propane stove|
|Success - a litre of 2013 maple syrup!|