Letter Re: The Forest’s Sweetener–How to Make Maple Syrup

As a maple producer I want to comment and expand on a few things regarding The Forest’s Sweetener. The original poster instructs you how to find sugar maples which are the best for sugar content but any native maple tree will work (Japanese maple is not native), I even tap silver maples. When making a spile take special care to have clean hands. Trees heal ia a way similar to humans do (bacteria helps close the wound) and will end your season quickly. A better alternative to people in the Northeast ever considering making syrup is to buy some spiles from a dealer or eBay. This time of year a lot of producers are looking to upgrade to plastic spiles and tubing after their season. You can clean the bacteria infested metal spiles by boiling them before your next season. Stainless steal spouts are also available. I use mostly 5/16 diameter drill bits and check valves to reduce the possibility of bacterial infection. Maple trees have internal pressure which will still force the sap out of the smaller hole. If you notice your tree did not heal from the previous season, then skip that tree this year as the tree is not healthy. The holes should be 80% closed. The smaller the holes the more complete the healing process.  

The author also suggested a 50 gallon pot with a slow steady fire. Most producers have evaporators that are thin Stainless Steel food grade material. The more surface area the better. Also don’t run your sap more than 2″ deep as it boils allot faster when the depth is not too deep. We try to maintain about ¾” – 1” of sap in our pans. The hotter the fire the better during your initial boiling the better (our evaporator pans run around 1,800-2,100 degrees F.). As you get closer to finishing you will want to regulate the fire more. If you make the syrup too thick simply add boiled sap or distilled water to the syrup to thin it to the correct density.  

A thermometer works good for telling when your close to making syrup and is fine for most do-it-yourselfers. However you really should use a hydrometer— an instrument that measures the density of a substance. 

After you finish your syrup you should re-filter it. If you don’t you will have deposits of Niter (sugar sands) that will settle to the bottom of your container. Instead of cheese cloth you can purchase commercially available cone filters and pre-filters for under $20 to filter your syrup. In the past we have used these filters for 3 years with no problems. Care should be taken when storing them as they will draw moisture and can leave a moldy taste to syrup. Simply wash them by hand with hot water (no soap).  

You should really hot pack your syrup to skip the step of a water bath. Simply place in mason jars at a temp above 185 degrees and flip the containers over (you can tell if it sealed by looking at the lid and observing if it is concave). There are also commercially available containers  that have a XL oxygen barrier and block out light giving your syrup a longer shelf life. You can re-use the containers by simply having a supply of extra lids available.   If for whatever reason your syrup appears to have mold or “mother” in it from not properly sealing you can simply reheat to 200 degrees and filter then use. Maple syrup should have a shelf life of five years and we have used syrup that’s up to 8 years old.  

I use tubing for my maple tress so I have central gather spots. I also use a vacuum pump but my tubing is set up to run by gravity if I have no fuel or electric. My evaporator is a Forced Air over Fire system that inject high pressure air above the fire and low pressure under the fire. This burns wood completely and is a gasification type system that produces no smoke once going (albeit a lot of steam). We process around 70 gallons of sap per hour.  

JWR often writes about how having your own home business can be beneficial WTSHTF. Our great country used to be a huge producer and exporter of maple sugar. I feel in the coming times that I have a business that will thrive WTSHTF as commercially produced sweets will not be readily available.   Thanks. – Jason in Nowhere, Pennsylvania