I like to tap our maple trees when I have the time. This year I scaled back to four trees so I wouldn’t have to handle so much sap. Our trees are not sugar maple (Acer saccharum) but red maple (Acer rubrum), considered the second most desirable maple species for syrup. The taste of the syrup is a little different, less “mapley” but still good.
Maple syrup is expensive because its production requires so much fuel. A gallon of syrup comes from 40 gallons of sap, and all that extra water has to be boiled away. This boiling traditionally happens in a sugar shack over a wood fire. Indoor boiling is avoided due to the volume of moisture evolved. The boiling vessel is a large shallow pan with baffles so that sap entering at one end moves slowly through the maze-like pan to where it emerges with most of its water removed. That was the old way. Nowadays boiling is reduced by using reverse osmosis or applying a vacuum by the big producers. They also tap their trees using tubing instead of buckets and applying vacuum to suck the sap out of the trees.
My method is to boil the sap on the kitchen stove with the vent hood going full blast, which is another reason to keep my production low. Each day I dump another four gallons of sap into the pot and boil all day until the level is around 1/2 gallon. With each day of boiling the amount remaining gets sweeter. The smell is intoxicating, and is the real reason I like the process. The memory of a smell is especially evocative.
Today the weather is amazing, with temperatures approaching 60°F, light wind and full sun. The sap is dripping rapidly and I have to assume we are in peak season. The first buckets started appearing on Lamoine’s trees about two weeks ago when we had a warm spell. The next week or so was colder and the flow stopped. The conventional wisdom is that freezing nights need to be followed by warm days, but the warm days can’t just be in the mid 30′s, good flow seems to require days in the high 40′s or more.
Red maple is the first to flower, and the swelling of the buds leading up to that event changes the quality of the sap for the worse, so red maple must be tapped early and ended before the flavor gets bad. With any luck I’ll have a pint or two of syrup for the rest of the year. Good thing we don’t eat a lot of pancakes.
Maine Maple Sunday will be on March 25 this year. This is the day when the public is invited to drop in on any of the many Maine maple syrup producers. Free samples are offered and the process is explained. More info here. Locally, organic farmer Chuck Weber produces enough syrup to offer quarts for sale until it’s gone. If you stay at SeaCat’s Rest, ask me to connect you with Chuck.