Today I made maple syrup at home (and a giant mess)

Well, it’s official. Today, I made maple syrup at home.

Take a look:

It tasted delicious.

But I did make a huge mess and a few mistakes. I’ll share the full adventure with you here, so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

Making maple syrup at home from maple sap

There are two silver maple trees in my yard. I bought a maple tapping kit online from Amazon.com this year and started collecting sap, with the hopes of making delicious maple syrup at home.

Today is the day I turned that natural nectar into the sweet and sticky syrup.

Boiling, boiling and more boiling (to concentrate the sap)

I have been collecting sap for the past 3 weeks now.  Since sap is somewhere in the neighborhood of ~2% sugar, it can and will spoil.

Since it needs to be concentrated to around ~66-67% sugar to become maple syrup, I spent some time getting ready by concentrating down the sap in small batches.

Each of the last few nights, I boiled the sap down to concentrate the liquid, stopping short of making sap on any one given night.

In the first three weeks of tapping my trees, I collected a little over 9-gallons of sap.

Over those weeks, I boiled it down to 1 gallon of honey-colored liquid.

This way, I was able to keep it in the refrigerator and boiling it helped ensure there weren’t any viable microbes there to spoil it.

Today, I boiled a little less than 1 gallon down into about 40 ounces of syrup (or almost syrup). I’ll explain in a minute.

Step 1: Getting the glassware ready

The first step in making maple syrup is to get the glass jars sterilized for storage.

Place the glass jars in a single layer in the bottom of the stock pot.

Fill the pot with water so that there is at least an inch of water over the top of the lids.

Boil the jars for about 10 minutes to sterilize them.

Record the temperature that water boils at

One of the ways you are supposed to be able to tell when the maple sap has been transformed into syrup is when the temperature reaches 7 degrees Fahrenheit above boiling.

Water boils at 212 degrees F at sea level, but that temperature at which water boils increases if you live in a higher elevation.

Plus, your thermometer may not be perfectly calibrated.

So, in order to figure out when the sap is done, a good next step is to boil some water and record the temperature.

My hand got pretty hot there. I recommend you wear an oven mitten when measuring your own temperature.

If I was smart, I would have just taken the temperature of the boiling water in the sterilization pot…but I didn’t.

Step 3: Boiling the sap

Even though I had already reduced the volume of the sap significantly over the past few days, by boiling a few gallons each night, there was still a fair amount of evaporating needed to convert the sap into syrup.

The color of the sap became darker and more amber colored as it cooked.

Step 4: Watch the boiling pot closely

Ever hear the phrase “a watched pot doesn’t boil”? Well, here’s a new one. A pot full of sap  boils…over…if you don’t watch it.

The boiling sap was fairly unpredictable. The rolling boil was under control most of the time, but periodically, it would foam up and ‘try’ to boil over.

If watched carefully, you can remove the pot from the heat and the bubbles settle back down to normal.

Miss it…and the pot boils over and you have a big, sticky, smelly, smoky mess on your cooktop.

More about that, in a bit.

Step 5: At 7 degrees above boiling

At 7 degrees above boiling, things got a bit tricky.

For starters, the sap foamed up a lot more. I’d take it off the heat, but it would bubble right back up, as soon as I returned it to the heat.

The liquid still looked a bit runny, but it did have a bit more surface tension than the sap did previously.

Step 6: Pour the syrup into the jars

The sixth and final step was to pour the syrup into the jars.

Before:

I filled them up, pretty close to the top and then slipped the lid on, tightening the ring so that it was finger tight.

After:

Step 7: Try to make some candy and make a big mess instead

My kids asked me to make some maple candy from the sap, too. So I reserved some syrup to make candy.

To make candy from maple syrup, you are supposed to heat the syrup up to about 235 degrees F (or even higher, according to some info I found online).

Then you let it cool for 5-10 minutes (without disturbing it) and then stir it for 5 minutes until it gets creamy.

Well, I never got that far, because my pot boiled over and made a major, major mess.

The volume of syrup in the pot, at this point, was about 40% of what it was a few moments earlier (because I had portioned out the first 60% into the syrup jars) and it still boiled over in the blink of an eye.

The syrup started burning immediately, filling the room with smoke. I don’t have a good picture of that, because I was too busy dealing with the mess.

The outside of the pot was now covered in sticky, dried syrup (thicker than the syrup I canned).

This picture doesn’t do the mess justice. The burner in the front right of the picture was covered in syrup which turned black, almost instantly and started to burn and smoke.

Syrup went everywhere and covered the other burners and the pot.

I had no options left but to hope the syrup had reached the proper temperature.

So I waited

Then stirred

But the syrup never got creamy. It just looked like syrup.

So I canned that too.

Lessons learned

While I’m a bit bummed that I wasn’t able to make maple candies from the syrup, that experience (and mess) did teach me something valuable and important about making maple syrup.

I pulled the syrup and started bottling as soon as it reached the temperature I thought was the ‘right’ temperature and it started foaming more often (acting differently).

But after trying and failing to make the candies, I realized that the viscosity of the syrup left behind from the batched candy operation looks and feels a lot more like the proper syrup viscosity.

The stuff I jarred first looks a bit runny, in comparison. I knew it was runny when I bottled it, but I assumed it would ‘thicken up’ once it cooled.

It did. But perhaps not enough.

So I know now that you want to look for these three things before pulling your syrup off the heat:

  1. Reaching at least 7 degrees above boiling point–and it seems like you could even go a bit higher without too many problems–I think I will aim higher next time
  2. The syrup will make a lot more foam that it did just seconds earlier
  3. The viscosity, even if hot, will change and be thicker

About filtration

I filtered my sap through a reusable coffee filter, when it was liquid sap, removing all the particulates.

When the syrup is boiling, it looks perfectly clear, but as it cooled in the jar, some particles settled out of solution.

Take a look:

Those are sugar crystals and minerals.

If you don’t want those in your syrup, you will have to filter the syrup as well.

One final tip/observation about making maple syrup or maple candy:

Don’t take your eyes off the syrup once it’s that close. I went to the fridge to get some butter because the recipes I found online generally called for a couple of drops of butter or oil, to ease the surface tension (and ironically, prevent boiling over).

The pot boiled over when I looked away and grabbed the butter from the fridge. So…have your supplies ready.

 

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