Tapping Maples

Sugarin Time!

Sugarin Time!

This is the time of year to be tapping Maples and Birches. Freezing temps at night and WARM days means the sap is running. One can hear the life surging behind the bark and the steady drip into the buckets fills my heart with gratitude.  With Maple syrup prices soaring and my passion for it we tapped about 5 Maples and are still collecting their generous flow.
There are over 100 species of Maple (Acer), 14 of them produce sap with a high sugar content but the Sugar Maple, at a 2 percent average sugar content, has the highest concentration of sugar for producing syrup. Nearly twice as much sap from other species is required to produce the same amount of maple syrup.  And since the ration is 40:1, meaning 40 gallons of sugar Maple sap boils down to only 1 gallon of syrup, then it’s a good idea to choose a sugar Maple to tap once the sap starts flowing in late Winter and early Spring.
The best time to locate Sugar Maples is in the Fall when their orangey red leaves divert attention with a magnetizing pull.  I took this picture last October of the Rose hips in the foreground but frankly…who’s looking?…Autumn garbed Maples have a commanding presence even from a distance!
Fall Splendor

Fall Splendor

Marc Williams, my ethnobotanist friend, taught me an easy detective trick concerning telling the difference between Sugar and Red Maples. “The leaf margins (edges) tell the main story: sugar maples have smooth edges while red maples are toothed or serrated. The three lobes of a sugar maple’s leaf are separated by smooth, U-shaped valleys – think U as in sUgar. The red maple’s lobes, meanwhile, are separated by serrated, V-shaped valleys. Overall, this makes the sugar maple’s leaves broader and more rounded than the narrower, pointier leaves of the red.”
Sugar maple

Sugar maples display bright yellows, oranges and crimson hues. Red maples show a fiery red color. Silver maples turn yellow, sometimes orange or red, but the leaves brown before they fall from the tree.

Red Maple
So once you have these trees identified it is a good idea to mark them in some way to remember which trees you will be tapping.

Being an avid wildcrafter and outdoors kinda gal I’ve been chumping at the bit to forage and herb around outside.  I harvested Winter roots, buds, barks, Chickweed under the snow but was anxious for sugarin season!  You know the sap is running when the temps are 40ish during the day and 20’s or so at night.  The past month or so fit this pattern and the results have been SWEET!

My wonderful husband, Jason, drilling holes for the spiles.

My wonderful husband, Jason, drilling holes for the spiles.

A friend from northern Minnesota, Bob Stauffer, has a big time Sugarin production, tapping 300 trees!  He crafted these Y shaped tubes for me to collect the sap from two places on a large trunk and we just made a single hole in the lid of 5 gallon buckets.  This fancy set up is not really necessary. A primitive skills expert here in Todd taps 75 Sugar Maples every year and uses Sumac stalks that have been hollowed out as the spiles and empty plastic gallon jugs to collect the sap.  Bethany and Hannah helped me collect Sumac branches but I have yet to use them as spiles, the pith is easy to remove leaving a hollow spile for tapping.  Next year I will do a bigger operation and use them then.

Hannah cutting Sumac branches f

Hannah cutting Sumac branches for spiles. Notice the scarlet spires of this outstanding plant in the background.  Huge colonies of this majestic edible have staked their claim to my neighborhood.

Here is a Youtube video on how to do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-skos1517s
Hannah carving Sumac spiles. I have never seen her when she wasn't smiling.

Hannah carving Sumac spiles. I have never seen her when she wasn’t smiling.

A tree needs to be at least 12 inches in diameter to be tap worthy.  This Maple has such girth that I attached too buckets to collect it’s sap.  Notice the rocks around the base of each bucket to anchor in place and also the rocks on top of the lids to keep them from blowing off.

Chippy loves to check on the buckets with me.

Chippy loves to check on the buckets with me.

Almost full after only changing the bucket less than 24 hours before.

Almost full after only changing the bucket less than 24 hours before.  I love to hear the plunk of the sap into the buckets.

Since I can't lift the 5 gallon buckets I transfer the sap into gallon glass jugs to take home for boiling.

Since I can’t lift the 5 gallon buckets I transfer the sap into gallon glass jugs to take home for boiling.

Taylor checking the frozen harvest!

Taylor checking the frozen harvest!

Yes I know I am crazy to boil sap on my stove top. I am afraid to look at my energy bill this month....

Boiling on the stove top….for hours. Clear Maple sap tasty like pure water with a twinge of sweetness to it. The brown liquid in the glass jug jar in front is the final boiled down syrup.

Boiling on the stove top....for hours. Clear Maple sap tasty like pure water with a twinge of sweetness to it. The brown liquid in the glass jug jar in front is the final boiled down syrup.

Interesting to watch the color of the boiled sap deepen as it is boiled. The finished product is not only a honey brown but also thick and syrupy.

Pouring off syrup

Pouring into glass jugs!!

Yes, I am aware that I am crazy… this is the culmination of lots of boiling and ‘wasting’ of electricity. BUT oh it tastes soooooo good. No wonder Maple syrup prices are steep! Jason helped me pour the syrup into waiting glass jug bottles and poured to fast the first time resulting in a a huge mess on the stove top. Using droppers we syringed every drop of the liquid gold into the jar. Next year, I will tap many Maples and use an outdoor mapling pan over a fire pit to save electricity!

The beginning of my harvest. This represents a LOT of boiling down. :(

The beginning of my harvest. This represents a LOT of boiling down.

Maple syrup at long last! It tastes amazing. Jason was so thrilled! I plan on making Maple scones for my next wild food class! and butternut squash soup with MAPLE syrup (click on links to see the recipes)

The final product from tree to plate.... ooooh baby! So I splurged and made sourdough bread french toast topped with strawberries as a platform for the Maple syrup! Alone with the fried egg and bacon are some rather burned potato peels that I fried in the bacon grease (I don't throw much if anything away...ever) and Dandelion root coffee for the perfect touch!

The final product from tree to plate…. ooooh baby! So I splurged and made sourdough bread french toast topped with strawberries as a platform for the Maple syrup! Alone with the fried egg and bacon are some rather burned potato peels that I fried in the bacon grease (I don’t throw much if anything away…ever) and Dandelion root coffee for the perfect touch!

Bethany pouring it on

Bethany pouring it on!

Jason and I have been trying to eat gluten free for the past few years. These banana almond butter egg paleo pancakes are our favorites. The Maple syrup is so delicious! As we ate dinner we had daffodils on the table but snow quietly falling outside the windows.

Jason and I have been trying to eat gluten free for the past few years. These banana almond butter egg paleo pancakes are our favorites. The Maple syrup is so delicious! As we ate dinner we had daffodils on the table but snow quietly falling outside the windows.

It is now March 23 and the sap continues to flow and I am still eagerly collecting every drop.  I love to drink the fresh sap straight from the tree as well (it tastes like the best water EVER!)  I’ll be posting my favorite Maple syrup recipes in the cooking section of my blog and using the harvest to sweeten wild menus for many an upcoming WILD event at Wild Blessings!  Join me!

AND I am sending this blog entry to Butter Wilde’s Wild Things Round UP at hungerandthirstforlife.blogspot.com

Check her site out!  It will open a whole nuther wild world to you!  Simply awesome!

An old homestead on the far side of this pasture has only a chimney left to be remembered by, this Maple has seen it come and go.

An old homestead on the far side of this pasture has only a chimney left to be remembered by, this Maple has seen it come and go.

Clouds floating in the stunning blueness above the naked tree limbs...speechless.

Clouds floating in the stunning blueness above the naked tree limbs…speechless.

 

Comments

  1. So wonderful! I don’t have sugar maples here, and we don’t get the perfect temps even if I did. So reading your blog is as close as I can get to it. Thanks so much!

  2. So interesting!
    Is there any special procedure to dig the wholes in the tree? And what after “tapping season”? Is there something special to do to avoid the tree to loose sap?
    Is it legal to tap trees in the wild?

  3. Please email your gluten free pancake recipe to me. Thanks. They look so good in the picture

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