I bet you thought tapping trees and making maple syrup was strictly a rural practice! Well, I’m here to tell you it can be done in the city.
This is the second year we’ve successfully made syrup in our backyard, smack dab in the middle of the city. We’re lucky to have two big maple trees on our very small property. Those two trees flow like crazy in the spring, and when the conditions are right we collect five gallons of sap a day.
The crazy weather we’ve been having made sap collection very slow this year. For months we were either buried under snow, or getting temps above 50 every day. Sap flows best when the previous night’s temps were below freezing, and the daytime temps are above freezing. You know, how things are supposed to be during a normal spring. I think most of us can agree this was not a normal spring. For weeks our sap was either at risk of spoiling because it was too warm, or frozen in the buckets because it was so cold.
The toughest part of making maple syrup in the city is the utter confusion and bewilderment you’ll see on the faces of your neighbors. It’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t know where eggs come from that you’re making syrup from water flowing out of a tree.
When you’re standing in your backyard in the middle of the day with a power drill and a bunch of buckets, knee deep in snow, examining trees, I suppose you should expect to get some strange looks from those around you. I mean really, if you caught your neighbor doing the same thing, you’d be a little weirded out too.
When I tapped our trees this year, I was doing exactly that, deep in concentration and not paying any attention to the world around me. I had already drilled a hole in the tree and tapped in the spile. I had paused to take some photos of the lovely sap pouring out of the end. This was when I realized I was being watched.
I stopped and peeked around the tree to see my neighbor, standing with a burning cigarette halfway to his lips, frozen in time as his brain tried to calculate what he was seeing. In retrospect I actually can’t imagine what he thought I was doing, poking holes in trees, jabbing metal thingies in them, and taking photos of the whole process.
“Oh hey! I’m just tapping the trees.” I said, a little sheepishly.
“I’m going to make maple syrup.”
“I’m just taking pictures of it for my blog.”
He wasn’t too keen to finish this conversation with his obviously insane neighbor, so he ditched the half smoked cigarette and hurried back inside. Most of my conversations with the neighbors end this way.
I went back to photographing the glorious sap drip drip dripping out of the tap into the bucket. I already couldn’t wait to get that sweetness on my tongue.
Locating last year’s tap holes was pretty fascinating. The wound has healed over with brand new beautiful tree skin. Seeing the old wound next to the tree blood pouring out of the new one makes me feel terrible for hurting them so. Alas, that’s life isn’t it? In order to survive we have to consume something, and in this case that something happens to be boiled tree blood.
After the holes were made on the other tree and the spiles inserted, Dee Dee helped me hang the bucket to collect the glorious sap. She’s a very good helper, she’s always underfoot when I’m doing anything in the backyard.
Three times a day, every day, for three weeks I dutifully emptied the full buckets into larger buckets. The weather was so strange and unpredictable that it reached 50 on some days and I had to pack snow around the big buckets so the sap wouldn’t spoil. When I had accumulated 15 gallons of sap it was time to conduct the first boil.
We learned last year that it’s a bad idea to boil sap indoors due to the extreme amounts of humidity. Instead we use a turkey fryer set up in the backyard to boil down the sap. It took two days of boiling to get it down to a reasonable volume that we could move onto the stove.
You can imagine that the neighbors who were disturbed by my photographing trees in the yard were equally disturbed by a steaming cauldron of mystery broth sitting on the patio for two days. During that time I was ultra concerned that the turkey fryer would somehow catch fire to our backyard and every time I heard a fire truck heading our way I would run to the back door to check on our fate.
The sap continued to boil on our stove for the last few hours, and I checked on it frequently to see how far along it was. The smell was heavenly, our whole house smelled like waffles. The syrup would be ready when it reached 5 degrees above the boiling point of water. Our thermometer is not exactly trustworthy so I also frequently performed the spoon test to see how far we were. When the syrup is ready, it should pour off the spoon in a sheet instead of a stream.
One thing we learned last year is that it’s really essential to use Maple Syrup Filters in order to get a perfectly clear syrup. Our product last year was delicious, but we were bummed that we had to throw out he last half inch of every jar because it was full of sugar sand that had slipped through the cracks of our cheesecloth filters.
While I was boiling down the syrup, I also made sure to taste test it along the way. Not because you’re supposed to, but because it was just that good. Like making candy in your kitchen. By the end of the night my face and hands (and countertop, sink, utensils, pots, everything) were covered in sticky maple goodness and I was one happy lady.
We managed to get enough sap before the end of the season that we could do it all over again, and since the resulting syrup was more than we can handle in a year, we were able to supply some friends with syrupy goodness as well!
The finished product is incredible. It’s beautiful, delicious, homemade, entirely organic and natural. Next year we’re going to attempt to boil it down outdoors at my parents country property using scavenged wood to cut costs. Propane is mighty expensive when you’re using it for two days straight! If you’re interested in next year’s supply, you’d better get your orders in now, we ran out in under an hour this year!
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