Peter Patenaude, a registered Maine Guide, has been a Filson fan for the past six years. His blog Boot & Canoe, focuses on traditional skills and Maine’s outdoor heritage. For those of you who have never learned the art of maple sugaring (us included)… Peter makes it looks easy with these five tips and tricks.
Introduction to Maple Sugaring
You do not need to invest a lot of money to make maple syrup. Tap spouts, pails, an old cooking pan and a fire pit are all you need to be on your way to running your own operation.
I only have 1 tree, is it worth tapping?
Absolutely- 1 tap can yield anywhere between 15 to 80 gallons of sap per season.
How will I know when to tap?
This is a great question that many seasoned sugarers struggle with from season to season. The best time to tap is when the days are warm but the nights are still dropping below freezing. It is during this period, between winter and spring, that pressure builds in the tree and causes the sap to run.
How do I tap the tree?
Using a 7/16 inch drill bit, bore 1 1/2 inches into the tree at an upward angle. If the tree you are tapping is 10-20 inches in diameter you should only drill 1 hole. If it is between 20 and 25 inches, you can drill 2 holes. After drilling, hang a pail under the spout. Be sure to have a cover over the pail to prevent rain water and debris from getting in.
How do I store the sap?
Sap is perishable so it must be stored in a cool place. I pack snow around buckets that I keep in a shaded area. This keeps the sap cool enough until I have time to boil it (about every weekend).
My buckets are full of sap, now what?
Once you have collected enough sap, it is time to boil. I use an old restaurant cooking pan that I set atop a fire grate. It takes approximately 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, so keep this in mind before you start to boil. Fill the pan up about half way with sap. Let this boil down until there is enough room to pour in more fresh sap. Repeat until you are done. With around 1-2 inches of syrup in the bottom of your pan, it is time to bring it inside and finish off over the kitchen stove. This is a very easy way to control the temperature and make sure that you do not boil it down too much. Once completed, strain through a cheese cloth, taste and begin canning!
1. If you are unsure of when to tap, contact a larger operation and ask them if they have started.
2. Make sure your pan is level so the sap boils down evenly and does not burn at one end.
3. Keep a close watch- it will feel like forever but once the sap starts to turn, it turns quick.
4. If you are nervous of a boil over, rub vegetable oil or butter around the edges of your pan.
5. Do not try to boil all of the syrup indoors on your stove as it produces a lot of steam.