Just imagine the smile on the Algonquin Indians face when he first tasted sweet maple syrup. The Algonquians and other northeastern and southeastern Canada tribes called this sweet treat sinzibukwud. Meaning sweet drawn from the wood. They first showed the French and early British settlers how to draw sap of acer saccharum, the sugar maple, and reduce it into a sweet thick liquid known today as maple syrup.
In early march when the days began to warm but the nights were still freezing the native Americans would cut a vee in the bark of a maple tree and attach a reed to the slit allowing the sap to flow into a clay pot or some sort of vessel. The sap was then concentrated by leaving it out to freeze overnight and then throwing out the water that froze on top or by placing hot stones into the pot to reduce the water. The result was a sweet thin syrup used in cooking or for a sweet drink. The Europeans introduced the Indians to copper and iron pots that greatly reduced the time it took to boil the sap and the result is what we now know as maple syrup today. Throughout the 1700s maple syrup and maple sugar served as a major unit of trade until it eventually was replaced by the sugar from sugar cane.
The maple and it's syrup remain an integral part of spring in the northeast woodlands. Many villages and towns have festivals revolving around the harvest and production of maple syrup. Many new England states as well as Wisconsin and west Virginia honor the maple tree as their state tree. The maple leaf flies at the center of Canada's flag which is entirely appropriate since the Provence of Quebec is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world. together the united states and Canada produce over 5 million gallons of syrup annually.
I make about 5 gallons of syrup every year. Beginning the second week of February I tap 25 to 30 trees by drilling a 7/16th inch hole about 4 feet from the ground and 2 inches deep. Then I insert what is called a spiel or spout if you will into the tree by tapping it in snugly and hanging a bucket or container on it to collect the sap. The sap flows well on warm days and you can fill an 1 1/2 gallon container over night. When the sap begins to run well I collect 40 to 42 gallons to evaporate into the final 1 gallon of syrup. Sap is 90% water and it takes some time to evaporate all that water leaving the syrup. I usually get about 15 gallons of sap per tree each spring. I try and run my evaporator twice a week for the duration of the run . The spring run can last from 4 to 8 weeks. I stop tapping when the trees begin to bud out. This budding makes the sap bitter and not good for syrup. By this time I have made a few gallons and burned up all my wood. There are commercial evaporators on the market that are very efficient and some even run on natural gas or oil but, the cost is substantial.
Current prices of pure maple syrup range between $45.00 and $50.00 dollars per gallon. I demand top dollar for my product because of all the hard work and absolute purity of the syrup. Plus it is very satisfying to produce such an enjoyable product from nature.
I built my evaporator from cement blocks and fire bricks. I have four 22x12x6 inch pans that I use to boil the sap.
I transfer the boiling sap to the rear where the finished syrup will be made. Transferring the sap back allows you to evaporate a full 40 gallons in about 8 to 10 hours. I finish the syrup in the house on my stove so I can control the process and make sure it doesn't scorch. I made the evaporator from plans I found on the internet. Basically, you make a rectangular structure that serves as a fire box. Make an arch up to the opening. Install a chimney from a stove pipe and place a door on the structure to keep it sealed as you burn wood. The purpose of the arch is to draw the flame evenly across the bottom of the pans. This makes the heating more efficient and the evaporation will take place quicker. I just mound sand in the bottom of my stove and it works well. I use an old baking sheet pan for the door and use hotel pans for evaporating pans. I purchased these items from a restaurant supply house. I lined the box with fire bricks to help hold in the heat. I mortared them in place then I fit the pans across the top. Check for gaps and seal any with mortar. This ensures even heat and keeps smoke from flavoring your syrup although some prefer a slightly smoky taste to theirs. Build a hot fire and add the sap to the pans filling them as they boil and begin to evaporate. Finally, you will begin to transfer the sap to the rear pans slowly making the syrup. Be careful on this step, I usually let the syrup reduce to about an inch or two in each pan, the sap becomes syrup when it reaches 66% sugar. A hydrometer will tell you the sugar content or you can use the temperature method. Syrup is made when the temperature is 7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water in your area. A good kitchen thermometer will work well. In my area of Ohio 212 degrees boils water so at 219.1 degrees I have syrup. This method works well and is quick and easy.
Just remember it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. A 5 gallon bucket of sap will usually make a pint of syrup and you can make it in a few hours. I would advise you to make it outside. If you boil all that in the house the steam will actually peel the wallpaper off the walls and cause the lights to blink. Water will gather on the ceiling and drip down the walls everywhere. You can fashion a small stove easily enough to make a small batch.. Just remember the ratio 2 1/2 gallons should make about a cup if the sugar content is high, 5 gallons should make a pint. This spring when the birds start singing and the days are warm and the nights are freezing, tap a tree or two and gather some SINZIBUKWUD and try this enjoyable and truly fascinating process that we were given by the native Ohioans here in our beautiful state.