Sunday, 31 March 2013

Making Syrup!


this is a d.i.y. guide to harvesting tree sap in the springtime, which can either be drunk straight as a spring tonic (it's slightly sweet and clear like water) or boiled down to make syrup.  there are a few different trees that produce sap that is both drinkable and syrup-possible: maple (sugar, red, silver, norway), birch, ash, horse chestnut and black walnut. each one has a different sugar level and the ratio of sap to syrup yield can range from 40:1 to 80:1.  this guide will focus on winter-identifying a silver maple, a very common urban tree, with a 50:1 ratio.


This a Silver Maple Leave
in the winter it is more difficult to identify trees because they are if you get the chance in the summer or can pick your trees ahead of time. otherwise, here are a few notes to identifying a silver maple tree.  keep in mind that you only want to tap mature trees.

the silver maple has opposite branches, meaning they will come out of the trunk directly across from each other.   the bark is shaggy and cavernous with slight variations in color.  it is also a good idea to have a look around the tree at the leaf spot the familiar maple leaf and confirm your find.

our arborist friend mark also told us to look at the tree structure, the whole shape of the tree.  this is really easy to do in the city because trees are not planted densely together and you can get a good look at them.  silver maples are trees that reach both out and up, resulting in a kind of classic tree shape, round and full.  keep in mind that in the city trees are sometimes manicured around hydro lines, near buildings, etc.


you can buy taps....but we made our own so here's how to do that.
you will need:
1.      1/4” x 4” black pipe nipple (piece of pipe with slightly tapered threading on both ends)
2.      metal file
3.      hacksaw
4.      jute string or similiar kind of string
5.      5/8” x 1/2” clear vinyl tubing ... you'll need 6” – 8” for each tap
6.      2L plastic pop bottle for collecting the water

you need to file off the threading on one end of the pipe so its smooth.  then cut the other end off with the hacksaw, so that your pipe is now 3” long.  file down the outside and inside of the end you just cut so its smooth.  use the hacksaw to put a notch in the pipe (see diagram)....this is for attaching the tap to the tree and the sap bottle/receptacle to the tap.  cut the vinyl tubing into 6 – 8” lengths.

Cold nights and warming days really get the sap flowing!


you will need:
  1. 1/2” spade drill bit

you want to drill about 2.5” into the tree. NO MORE THAN THIS. make the hole about 4” off the ground and if you can, find one of the big roots coming into the tree and put your tap in above that.  put the tapered end (the ends that you filed the threading off of) into the tree, taping it in to make sure it fits snug. slip the vinyl tubing onto the tap that is now sticking out of the tree.  take your 2L bottle and slip the tubing into it. use the string to make all the pieces stay together, keeping in mind that the bottle will get heavy when it fills up with sap.


the ideal conditions for sap is early springtime weather when the nightime temperature is below 0 degrees celsius and the daytime temperature is above 0 degrees celcius.  the temperature of the previous night seems to be one of the most important factors for flow.   as the day warms up the sap begins to flow and by noon 60% of the flow has occurred and starts to decline.  when its flowing a lot, you'll probably have to empty your bottles 3 times/day.

When keeping a fire going for many hours you will need lots of wood!
Look for abandoned pallets and constructiuon scrap
cities are full of free resourcres!

Thank you Sara for the beautiful drawings!
collect the water in a large container and keep refrigerated until you're ready to boil it down.  it won't keep for long, but you can collect for 5 days or so....until you will need to deal with it.  for boiling it down, ideally you can use a big pot over a fire it will need to boil for hours and hours and the steam is pretty sticky on your kitchen walls.  we used a steel drum cut lengthwise, with one end cut   down so that we could feed the wood in.  a grate across the barrel held the pot.  we boiled down about 35L over a continuously burning hot fire for 10 hours.

when it gets close to being done (you are reaching the ratio 50:1), take off the fire and transfer to smaller pot to finish inside where you can closely monitor the final part.  it is easy to boil it too much and end up making a big batch of maple sugar candy as opposed to maple syrup.  if you have a candy thermometer, you can use it to watch for when the syrup reaches 7 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water.  and/or watch carefully for a change in the turns from kind of foamy to bigger bubbles that pop differently and less frequently....syrup bubbles! this means IT IS READY.Make a HUGE meal, pour syrup all over it, and invite your friends to enjoy it with you! Thanks to Sara, Mark, and Adam for taking notes, making drawings, and sharing knowledge!

No comments:

Post a Comment