Maple syrup is made by tapping sugar maple trees and extracting their sap, then boiling the sap down to condense the sugar, thus creating syrup. It takes anywhere from 30 to 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of syrup. While the process of making syrup from sap is not complicated, a number of things can go wrong.
Although maple sap is traditionally collected in metal buckets that are hung on the trees, most modern commercial operations use plastic pipes. They are attached to multiple trees and run downhill to a central collection point. Particularly at the beginning of the sugaring season, an inspection of the pipes needs to be made to be sure that they haven't been damaged and since the previous season and may leak. Pipes can succumb to chewing squirrels who like the sugar content, to freezing and movement, and to large animals, such as moose, who may break them.
The taps, buckets and boiling pan need to be kept clean when making maple syrup. Although the process of boiling will remove most impurities and germs present in the sap, take care to avoid introducing foreign matter into the syrup, particularly after boiling. Straining can remove twigs, sticks and particulates from the sap after boiling.
Boiling sap becomes an increasingly touchy process as it progresses toward being syrup. When the boiling begins, the sap is the consistency of water, and it's a simple matter of heating it up and burning off steam. Toward the end of the process, though, care must be taken not to let the syrup get too hot or boil too long, because once it is viscous and has a high sugar content it is subject to burning. Many people boil the sap down most of the way on a sugaring arch (a large outdoor pan, usually heated by wood), then finish the boiling in a smaller pot, even on a household stove, where temperatures can be more closely controlled and the syrup can be watched closely.
After the syrup is made, it needs to be sealed into glass jars or metal cans. Given the high sugar content in maple syrup, it can crystallize or spoil if left for too long without being sealed. Sealing the syrup inside of a container prevents oxygen exchange with the outside atmosphere and prolongs the life of the syrup. Although it will go bad eventually even inside a container, syrup can potentially last for years if stored in a cool and dry place.
Heat the sap to at least seven degrees above boiling, which is around 212 degrees Fahrenheit (this number will vary slightly depending on your altitude). Doing this before canning or bottling the syrup ensures that it goes into the container without any dangerous live cultures.
- Photo Credit Collecting the sap from a maple tree image by Rob Hill from Fotolia.com
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