Filtering and Boiling Sap: Our Experiences in Sugaring {Part 2}

In today's post, Julie Fryer from Maple Tapper is going to give us the details about handling all of the sap that comes from tapping maple trees. You can check out Part 1 here. She also contributed several photos. Throughout this post in italicized red I will share my thoughts, as well as including a few photos of our experiences boiling. I was compensated for this post with two free maple tapping kits, one of which I am giving to my friend for allowing us to tap her trees.

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Turning maple sap into pure maple syrup is a centuries-old pastime that requires minimal tools but a lot of patience! Pure maple syrup is 100% organic with absolutely nothing added. It’s filled with antioxidants and is just plain fun to make. The process is not complicated and you can easily learn everything you need to know in one season.

Step One: Sugar Shack Preparation

The boiling process can take many hours, lots of fuel, and everything around the pots will be covered in a sticky film. Even the steam coming off the sap has tiny bits of sugar! For this reason, most sugarmakers boil their sap outside and many create a separate “sugar shack” to house their cooking and bottling operations.

Below is the Indian Creek Nature Center's "sugar shack". I was lucky to get a tour during a maple syrup class. 


As a hobbyist, it’s not essential to build an entire sugar shack but you will need a cooker, some kind of overhead shelter with lighting, an abundant source of fuel such a split firewood or a large propane tank, and a work surface for bottling. You can find pre-made hobbyist evaporator pans from large suppliers as well as many DIY “evaporator plans” if you’d like to build your own cooking stove.


Our sugar shack is much less industrial, as you can see. 


We simply used a 3-burner camp stove that we borrowed from my parents, and a few simple pans.


Step Two: First Filter
Sap is first filtered on the day it’s collected to remove debris or insects. This is done by pouring the sap through a piece of clean cotton cloth such as tee-shirt, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a pre-filter designed for syrup production. The filtered sap is then either cooked immediately or chilled in a food-safe container until it’s time for boiling. Chilled sap will keep for up to five days but it’s best to cook it right away.

Step Three: Beginning Boil
Sap becomes syrup as the water is removed through evaporation and the sugars become concentrated. The flavor of your finished syrup is created by the caramelization of the sugars during the boiling process – the longer the sap is boiled in the pan, the darker and stronger the flavors become.

The Indian Creek Nature Center's boiler handles all of their sapping needs: 


Filtered sap is poured into a shallow evaporator pan and cooked over high heat. Because sap will sometimes boil over, 3- to 6-inches of space must be left at the top of the pan. This means that all the day’s sap may not fit into the evaporator pan at once. In this instance, the additional sap is warmed separately and added to the main batch as it boils down. This process is continued until all the sap is boiling in one big batch. Sap is boiled as aggressively as possible until the temperature reaches approximately 216°F.

The rate at which your water will evaporate depends on numerous factors such as: pan size and construction; type of heat source; and even the temperature of sap being added to the evaporator. If using a shallow, rectangular pan with lots of surface area, it takes between 9 and 18 hours to produce one gallon of syrup. With a deep, circular pan, it can take as little as 28 hours and as long as 56 hours.

Step Four: Second Filter and Finish Boil


When sap reaches the 216°F range, it is removed from the main heat source and filtered through filters designed for maple syrup making. This filtered sap is then boiled in a smaller pot on a cooker such as a regular kitchen stove or outside propane cooker. This stage is carefully watched until the sap reaches 219°F which is the temperature at which it becomes syrup.


Step Five: Final Filter and Bottling
After it reaches 219°F, syrup is removed from the heat, tested with the hydrometer (this step is optional), and run through a two-layer filter to remove sugar sand or niter. The filtered syrup is then kept warm and poured into glass jars or bottles. Bottles are sealed and allowed to sit for 24 hours.

If your syrup was not filtered enough it might appear cloudy. It can also be created by boiling the sap too far past the finishing point. In either case, it does not affect the quality of your syrup and will usually sink to the bottom during storage. You can reheat your syrup and put it through another filtering to remove the sugar sand.

Step Six: Storage
After the jars have cooled, they are wiped clean and stored away in a cool, dry place. Properly bottled and sealed pure maple syrup will keep for up to one year. Maple syrup can also be frozen indefinitely – it will not harden, though, due to the high sugar content. Once opened, syrup should be stored in the refrigerator and used within six months of opening. If you notice any mold or discoloration, discard the contents as it may not be safe to eat. Also, do not store your syrup in plastic containers as the syrup may absorb odd flavors or odors from the plastic.

Much more detailed information with step-by-step syrup making directions can be found in our book, Guide to Maple Tapping, which is included in every kit and also available electronically.

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