Maple syruping for beginners: Boiling! Part three

Syrup bottled and labelled, 2011

Syrup bottled and labelled, 2011

The snow is melting and the mud is beginning to appear. The ground looks rather dirty, so watching our collecting jugs fill with sap is a welcome distraction. We collect daily, and the fire will be going from morning till night for the next few weeks. Friends and family always seem to show up when we are thinking of not bothering to syrup, and they make this annual production all the sweeter.

I dash home from work and don clothes that are my maple syrup boiling clothes because they get permeated with the smell of woodsmoke, and check the progress in the pot. The steam is thick and opaque, it is difficult to see the surface of the simmering sap. Friends say they smell the maple, but all I smell is wood burning. It is this wood smoke that gives our syrup the flavor no commercial syrup can have.

It is maple, with smoky undertones. I’ll take it over the subtle nose of Maine’s finest amber any day.

Ready to boil?

How to boil and bottle maple syrup

Collect the sap from the jugs at base of trees by emptying them into a bucket with a handle.

Get the fire going under the stand you have made to hold your evaporating pot, whether it is an enamel lobster pot, or custom-made pan.

Dump in the sap, keep the fire stoked, and bring sap to a boil. Keep adding sap, but not so much that you loose the boil. When you are done for the day, cover your pot and let the fire go out.

We just keep adding sap and boiling until we reach a thick, viscous pre-syrup stage with all the sap we plan to render down.

It may seem that it will never reduce, but pay attention, or you will join the many who have burned their sap. At the end of the season another thing to watch for is having sap go sour. If you collect it but fail to boil it and it sits in the sun it will spoil. The sour smell is unmistakable.

After the first boil outside, pour sap through a filter. This can be a commercial felt filter, clean linen or cheesecloth. Strain the sap into a stainless steel stock pot and bring to stove op for final reduction.

This can seem endless, so while it simmers, get your bottles clean and lined up. We immerse bottles and caps in boiling water.

You can use a thermometer, and when syrup is 219° it is done. It will seem thin, but it will thicken as it cools. Some just use their eyes to gauge doneness. It is ready when you rapidly stir a metal spoon through syrup and it “flashes.” This has been described as a burst of steam and sudden froth on the surface.

Pour the sap into your clean bottles or jars, wear hot mitts, and tighten the caps on. That’s it!

When I’m not playing outside, I am a website designer, and I would no more let a bottle be unlabelled than I would walk outside undressed. Packaging is part of the fun, so create labels to let people know this is your syrup, and, from a practical point of view, to remind you what year it was made.

When you finally taste your own homemade syrup, hauling buckets, stoking the fire, boiling and waiting will be right there in that bottle with the syrup, making it even finer.



Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.