How We’re Preparing To Make Maple Syrup
Today we’re going to learn about making maple syrup! But first, I must regale you with a story (far be it for me to get to the point quickly… ):
One of the reasons my husband and I chose to move to a 66 acre homestead in Vermont three years ago is that we knew nothing about homesteading. Yep. We both felt conversant in city life–to the point of boredom–and wanted a new challenge. I remember when I first moved to New York City in 2007, I was overwhelmed by the subway system to the point of sweaty palms and furtive studying of the stop map posted above the train doors.
But I mastered the subway and all other artifices of urban life. So I needed a new adventure! I needed to throw myself into another lifestyle that I knew nothing about. There were quite a few other reasons for this move, but learning new things is a primary and lifelong motivator for me and my main man (ok, only man).
One of the things that Mr. Frugalwoods and I always, without fail, held up as a shining example of “what we’d do on the homestead” was making our own maple syrup. It’s a classic, idyllic-seeming Vermont endeavor and we aspired so hard to become sugarers (as they’re known). And now, at long last, that dream will become reality (unless, of course, we screw it up, which remains a distinct possiblity).
Books and the internet are our first portals of skill acquisition and we’ve both spent hours poring over accounts of how to syrup as well as devouring wistful remembrances of other people’s childhoods spent in the company of sugaring parents. Ever nostalgists, we even have the Sugar Snow Little House On The Prairie book, which we read to our girls as often as they’ll stand it. But book learning will only get you so far (this is an affiliate link). We needed some in-person expertise.
The Vermont Evaporator Company To The Rescue!!!
In light of how little we know about maple syruping, and in light of how much I love meeting new people and making new friends, we struck up a friendship with Kate, who is the co-founder (along with her husband) and CEO of a local Vermont company that makes maple syrup evaporators! I am a fan of local businesses. I am a fan of women-led businesses. I am a fan of maple syrup.
And so, I am thrilled to share that Kate’s company, the Vermont Evaporator Company, is now the official maple syrup evaporator of Frugalwoods. I know you’ve been sitting there just wondering who the official maple syrup evaporator of Frugalwoods would be and I’m glad I can finally allay your curiosity. I’m delighted that someone thought we were serious enough homesteaders to create a homestead-type-thing partnership with us. Or perhaps Kate is taking pity on our ineptitude… either way, we’re going to make us some maple syrup!
What is a maple syrup evaporator?
I’m so glad you asked as I’ve recently come into this knowledge myself. It’s a device that allows you to boil down maple tree sap into maple syrup (photos featured above and below). Maple syrup is condensed tree sap and essentially all you have to do is boil sap down (waaaaaaay down) and lo, it becomes syrup. Kate brought us a Sapling Evaporator, which is what we’ll be using to boil down our sap this spring. In the interest of full disclosure, Kate gave us this evaporator for free in exchange for me writing about using it. However, we’re under no obligation to say only rosy, good things about it, so I’ll be giving you an honest review of our experience with the Sapling.
Sidenote: in addition to using the Sapling to boil down syrup, Kate has designed them so that you can convert them into smokers and grills for all your smoking and grilling food prep needs. Hence, it’s a three-for-one machine!
Without using an evaporator, there are less ideal ways to boil sap and I’ll enumerate some of them here:
- Boiling sap down indoors on your stovetop is a bad, bad idea because the steam coming off of the sap is SUPER sticky and will make your house sticky. I haven’t personally tried this, because I already have ample problems of an indoor nature (namely, my two adorable, tiny, disastrously messy children)
- Outdoors, you could rig up some sort of propane-fired boiler (such as a turkey fryer), but this is suboptimal because propane is expensive and apparently it takes forever to boil the sap down.
- Finally, outdoors you could fashion a boiler over an open fire using hotel pans balanced on cinder blocks or similar. There are several problems with this: 1) you’re balancing fiery hot liquid atop cinder blocks, which aren’t designed to accommodate those temperatures; 2) hotel pans aren’t great for boiling sap because you have to transfer it as it boils down, which can create a mega mess; 3) we’ve been told this is a frustrating approach that doesn’t work well. However, that’s not to say that plenty of people don’t manage it year after year!
In light of all this, we’re delighted that we’ll be syruping with a genuine maple syrup evaporator! Before Kate got in touch with us, Mr. FW and I’d been researching evaporators and the problem we kept bumping up against was twofold: 1) we couldn’t find any small evaporators on the used market; 2) most of the new evaporators we found were HUGE and super expensive. Enter the Vermont Evaporator Company, which fills our need perfectly. Their evaporators are designed specifically for small-scale syrupers (that’s what we want to be!).
Plenty of Vermonters have massive sugaring operations and they sell their sweet, sweet syrup for mass consumption, which is awesome! For them, large-scale evaporators make sense. But for people like us, who don’t aspire to mass produce syrup and want to make just enough for household consumption (and a few holiday gifts!), Kate’s smaller evaporators are ideal.
Maple syrup season is in the spring (more on why in a moment), so Mr. FW and I haven’t actually made any syrup yet, but, under Kate’s expert tutelage we are preparing to make syrup. And if you too want to make syrup this year, you ought start preparing! Given this, today’s post will cover how to prepare to make maple syrup. In the springtime, I’ll regale you with tales of us actually making our syrup (or you know, burning a bunch of maple sap in our backyard). Either way, it’ll be exciting and will include lots of photos of us + fire.
How To Make Maple Syrup (A Beginner’s Guide Written By A Beginner)
Kate kindly came to our homestead (several times) in order to teach us how to go about the process of making maple syrup. For those of you interested in also making your own maple syrup, I was excited to learn that one can do so with very few sugar maple trees. Mr. FW and I are blessed with thousands of trees on our property (and a lot of them are sugar maples), but Kate explained that one can make syrup from tapping just a few sugar maple trees. So, people in the suburbs with a few sugar maples in your backyard? You could turn those trees into some tasty goodness.
Let’s start at the very beginning: maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees.
You can also, I’ve learned, make syrup from other types of trees. Sugar maples are by far the most common–and they produce the syrup you’re accustomed to buying at the store–but other tree saps can in fact generate a facsimile.
Kate told me that you can actually tap any maple tree for syrup–not just sugar maples!! She reports that it all (amazingly) tastes the same, but that there’s a different sap to syrup ratio to contend with. Kate shares more details on this approach here. And in addition to maples, Kate explained that birch as well as black walnut can be tapped for syrup. Since we plan to use sugar maples, I won’t delve into the specifics on those trees, but I wanted you to know just how many syrup options you have out there in the world.
The really short version of how you make syrup is thus:
- Extract sap from a tree by putting a tap into said tree
- Boil this sap down into syrup using an evaporator
- Eat the syrup
Ok, that’s it folks. Go forth and tap. Hah! Thankfully, Kate expanded on this process for me and helped me create the below guide, which is what Mr. FW and I will follow this spring for our first tapping season.
Step 1: Identify Sugar Maple Trees
Don’t laugh, you guys! I told you this was a beginner’s guide. As Kate sagely pointed out, it’s really hard to identify trees once their leaves are off. Mr. FW can identify trees by their bark alone (and I’ve made some marked improvement), but in a lot of cases, a tree trunk just looks like a tree trunk.
In the leaves, however, we see the gradations of originality and the purest distillation of what makes each tree its own unique being. In other words, look at the leaves and mark which ones are sugar maples. At right, for your reference, is a useful picture of Kate holding a sugar maple leaf in her palm.
I hope you enjoyed that. Put a marking flag (we use these) around your sugar maples if you think you might forget which ones are which… something I will most definitely do (that’s an affiliate link). Here is Kate’s write-up on how to identify your trees.
Step 2: Decide How Much Syrup You Want To Make
The number of trees to tap is entirely dependent upon how much syrup you hope to end up with. If you only have one or two trees in your yard, then that’ll be your cap. But if you have an abundance of foliage on your land, you’ll want to calculate how much syrup you use in a year and thus how much syrup you want to make–because it’s a somewhat labor intensive process. Also I am lazy and don’t want to do more work than I have to.
Mr. FW and I calculated that we use approximately 6 gallons of maple syrup per year, which means we will need a total of 240 gallons of tree sap. As I mentioned, the sap is boiled down to create syrup and the ratio for sugar maples is 40:1, meaning that 40 gallons of raw sap boils down to 1 gallon of finished syrup (I told you there was a lot of boiling involved).
Next up, we need to know how much sap comes from a maple tree! This is not a precise science since each tree is its own individual entity and the amount of sap that flows depends very much on the year, the weather, which side of the tree a moose licked… basically, it varies, but a rough estimate to work from is 1/3 of a gallon of finished syrup per tree.
Ok so back to our goal of 6 gallons: At 1/3 of a gallon (of finished syrup) per tree, Mr. FW and I are planning to tap around 20 sugar maples this year. Kate said it’s more likely to get 1/2 a gallon per tree, but we’re anticipating that we’ll screw something up and lose/destroy some of our sap. So we’re estimating low in the hopes of ending up with that 6 gallon goal. Kate pointed out that there are many ways to lose sap: (1) overflowing buckets, (2) a windstorm that snaps a line, (3) having to dump a bucket because a baby squirrel fell in and died (happened to her once, she reports it was horrible), and of course (4) human error. Given my proclivity for #4, I think estimating low will be good for us.
In some cases, you can put more than one tap in a tree (if it’s a very large tree), but research has indicated that one tap per tree is likely to encourage the best longterm sap production from each tree. You can’t tap the same spot on a tree multiple years in a row, so the tree needs to be growing fast enough to allow you to tap every year and not run out of new spots to tap. Summary: we’ll be putting in just one tap per tree.
Step 2, Subpoint A: maple syrup is for more than just pancakes!!!
Who doesn’t love a good subpoint? Whoa, Mrs. Frugalwoods, you might be thinking. Six gallons of syrup sounds like A LOT of pancakes!!! And it would be. Funny enough, we don’t actually use our syrup on pancakes (I mean we do about once a year, but not regularly).
So what on earth do we do with six gallons of syrup every year? We bathe in it. In an ancient Vermont ritual of cleansing, we fill a trough with maple syrup on the first harvest moon of the new season and dip our… totally kidding, I bake bread with it!
Using our bread machine (which I found for free on the side of the road, thank you very much), I bake all of our family’s bread. That sounds like I bake many different kinds of bread, which you could do if you were creative/motivated. I, however, being neither of those things, bake just one type of bread every week: whole wheat sandwich bread using this recipe. I adore baking my own bread because:
- it’s cheaper than buying bread
- it’s healthier than store-bought bread
- I know exactly what ingredients are in there
- it uses maple syrup in lieu of white sugar or high fructose corn syrup
- it’s delicious!
In ye olden days (that would be three years ago… ), I thought maple syrup was merely a pancake topping. A frivolity. A yummy, but wholly unnecessary, pantry denizen. Moving to Vermont has opened my sheltered mind to the multitudinous uses of the humble maple syrup.
My primary application is in my whole wheat bread recipe, but Kate shared that she also employs maple syrup in salad dressing, mustards, and even in chili! Yum. Kate actually has an entire post devoted to things to cook with maple syrup! I will also point out that maple syrup, while still a sugar, does contain natural vitamins and minerals, seeing as it is from a tree. Plus, let’s be honest, it’s delicious on pancakes.
Step 3: Procure Yon Wood
I really talk about wood a lot. If it’s not our resident menace woodchuck (who I see skulking around the yard daily like the rotund football that he is), it’s Mr. FW building a woodshed, or harvesting wood from our land, or burning wood in our woodstove to heat our home. Or in this case, compiling wood to burn in our sap boil! As I mentioned above (about 500 times), maple syrup comes from boiling down maple tree sap. Hence, as you might’ve guessed, one needs a lot of wood in order to fuel the fire that’s going to boil down your maple tree sap.
Last month, I indulged you all in a riveting discussion of wood BTUs. I am fully aware that some of you read my stuff just praying that I’ll mention BTUs, and I will not disappoint all four of you today. As I outlined last month, the wood we burn in our woodstove (which heats our entire house) is high BTU hardwood. This is wood that burns slowly and efficiently, which is exactly what you want in a woodstove. Conversely, the wood you want for boiling down maple sap in an evaporator is–wait for it–SOFT WOOD, which has a low BTU. Your mind is blown, am I right? Soft wood burns more easily and more quickly, which is terrible for trying to heat a home, but fantastic for boiling down some good old tree sap.
Given this differential, we can’t use the same wood to boil down our syrup that we use to heat our home. Slight problem for us as Mr. FW spent months upon months with his chainsaw in the woods bringing down trees to warm our home. But maple syrup boiling wood? Not so much.
Lucky for us, Kate came to our rescue and kindly brought us a pallet of soft wood to burn in our sap boil. We also have a few languishing piles of soft wood from trees Mr. FW had to bring down for safety reason. Everyone who knows my husband, or who followed along with his woodshed building adventures on Instagram, can probably guess where I’m going with this…
We’re going to need another woodshed.
Well, maybe. If we decide to syrup every year in a serious way, we’ll need to conceive of some sort of segregated wood storage area for syrup wood since we don’t want to co-mingle it with our woodstove wood in our existing woodshed. But that’s another challenge for another year. For now, we’re doing the time-honored tradition of storing the wood on a pallet in our yard. Seems we’ll always have random pallets of wood in our yard…
Kate, an endless font of knowledge, explained that you need about 1/2 a cord of wood per five gallons of finished syrup (assuming, again, that you’re using sugar maple sap and that you’re using a Sapling evaporator). Less efficient methods of evaporating will require more wood. Wondering what a cord is? I have the answer right here (I told you I write about wood a lot).
An advantage of using soft wood is that it takes less time to dry and cure. Wood that’s harvested in the summer will be ready to burn for syruping season in the spring. More on drying and curing here! See? More about wood. In my defense, I’m not the only one who writes a lot about wood (it’s an important topic, people!), Kate has a great post on collecting wood for your sap boil here.
If you don’t happen to have ready firewood to harvest on your own land, fear not, you can source wood to burn from any of the following: lumber yard scraps, chipper services, lawn care companies, discarded pallet wood (ensure it hasn’t been chemically treated), and city parks. Kidding. Do not go chop down city trees and blame me. I’m already in trouble with cities everywhere for evangelizing country life…
Step 4: Procure Yon Supplies
Once you’re set with your two biggest supplies: sugar maple trees and wood to burn, there’s a slew of other items you need in order to effectively home sugar. In other news, “home sugar” is my new nickname.
First, you need spiles, which are what you tap a tree with in order to extract sap. A spile is a fairly small, traditionally metal gadget (they can be plastic) that you drill into the trunk of the tree(s) you want to tap. You’ll also need a drill with an appropriately-sized bit.
Next up, you need a way to collect the sap that comes out of the spile that’s drilled into your tree trunk. There are two options here: buckets or lines. Mr. FW and I are still undecided about which approach we’ll use. Buckets are what you see in ye olde maple syrup photos–it’s literally a bucket hanging off the tree below the spile. The downside of the photogenic buckets is that you have to manually collect each bucket. Lines are admittedly less Instagram-worthy as they’re plastic tubes that run from tree to tree. But the great advantage of lines is that they can be gravity fed, which means the sap simply flows on down the lines, collecting from each tree and pouring into your…
Sap storage tank! Like it sounds, this is a place to store your tree sap before you boil it into syrup. Kate recommends food-safe buckets or cubes. She reports that the sap needs to be kept cool or frozen and that it’s not a problem if it freezes. In light of this, I tentatively think we’ll plan to store the sap in our barn in some sort of yet-to-be-purchased food-safe container. In order to get the sap out of this tank, you’ll need a…
Spigot! Kate reports that, depending on your weather conditions (and how cold you can keep your sap), the raw sap should stay good for about 1 to 1.5 weeks before needing to be boiled into syrup.
Filters: with which to filter your finished syrup, particularly if you plan to sell it. As part of the boiling process, some of the minerals crystallize and create what’s called “sugar sand,” which settles to the bottom of the jar. If you want, you can filter this out. Or, you can just not pour out the bottom of the jar. However, the more crucial reason to use filters are to remove–there’s no gentle way to say this–bugs (it’s a natural process, people).
Thermometer: this is useful because you know maple syrup is done based on its temperature. A seasoned maple syrup maker can just look at it and know, but for us amateurs, we need to utilize some science in order to know when our boil is finished (lest we burn the whole batch).
Once the sap reaches 219 degrees Fahrenheit, it has completed its alchemy into syrup. Technically, the temperature is 7 and 1/4 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water, and water boils at different temperatures based on your elevation, so you can perform this calculation based on your specific location.
I’ve saved the best for last. In order to make maple syrup, you need an evaporator!! As previously discussed, an evaporator allows you to boil down tree sap for the requisite amount of time to transmute it into maple syrup.
I’ll write another post this spring detailing our syruping adventure with a full rundown on how the evaporator works. For now, it’s looking mighty fine hanging out in our barn.
Helpfully, Kate has this post on her site with suggestions of how and where to source all of these supplies. Since we don’t own any of this stuff yet, I’ll be scouring that post and will let you know how our procurement process goes.
- Sugar maple trees
- Wood to burn
- Drill with appropriately-sized bit
- Buckets or lines
- Sap storage
- Spigot in sap storage
- Containers to hold your finished syrup
Step 4: Read up and Research
It’s now wintertime (in your supposed syrup preparation world) and so you’ve curled up next to your woodstove with plans to doze and perhaps catch up on the latest issue of Cat Fancy. This is false if you plan to syrup!!
You, future syrup maker, are imbibing the fire hose of syrup-making information available. You are reading Kate’s Vermont Evaporator blog from start to finish (something I need to do… ) and also a bunch of other stuff about syruping. Here are some suggestions:
- Backyard Sugaring 101: The Shortest Maple Sugaring Guide Ever (obviously not written by me… )
- Maple Sugaring 101: A Beach Read for Sugaring Folk
- Maple Trader Forum (you will be unsurprised to hear that, yes, there is a forum devoted exclusively to maple syruping)
- The Maple Sugar Book; by: Helen and Scott Nearing (more of a historical perspective than a how to)–affiliate link
- Sugar Snow: Little House On The Prairie; by: Laura Ingalls Wilder (for the kids!)–affiliate link
Now You’re Ready for Syrup Season!
Wait, when is syrup season again????!!!!!
More specifically, syruping season is slightly different every year as it’s entirely temperature dependent. According to the Vermont Maple Syrup Makers (whose annual conference Mr. FW attended): “A pattern of freezing and thawing temperatures (below freezing at night and 40-45 degrees during the day) will build up pressure within the trees causing the sap to flow from the tapholes.”
Since this type of weather–below freezing at night, above freezing during the day–happens at different times each year, it’s impossible to predict exactly when we’ll be syruping. And, it’s also possible to have several “runs” in a season, meaning the sap might flow during a particularly warm week in February and then stop for awhile as temperatures dip down and then might flow again in March. One must be ever vigilant to the weather when one is syruping (good thing we have a weather nerd in residence who installed a weather station on our property. I’ll give you one guess as to who that was… ).
In the spring, I’ll give you a rundown of steps 5-10 in the syruping process (oh who am I kidding, knowing me, there’ll probably be 20 more steps… ):
- Step 5: Start Tapping Your Trees!
- Step 6: Collect and Store The Sap
- Step 7: Boil The Sap In An Evaporator
- Step 8: Filter The Syrup
- Step 9: Can The Syrup
- Step 10: Eat The Syrup
Until then, happy preparations and I’ll see you when the sap flows!
Kate, CEO of the Vermont Evaporator Company, and I will BOTH be answering questions on this post, so please feel free to ask all your syruping-related questions in the comments section! I’ll give hilarious commentary and Kate will provide actual useful information.
Have you ever made your own maple syrup?
Never Miss A Story
Sign up to get new Frugalwoods stories in your email inbox.
We did this for several years with our children when they were school age (manual labor for emptying buckets!). The first year we boiled on the stovetop. It was indeed messy and we ruined our over-range mounted microwave with all the steam. In subsequent years we used a turkey fryer. It’s a very satisfying process!
“and I will not disappoint all four of you today.” Got a good chuckle out of that. Great post. Never put too much thought into how maple syrup is made.
Dang, this makes me want to eat some maple syrup!
We don’t have room for this in our NYC apartment, but maybe one day if we move to a large place in the woods, we can do this too! Until then, I’ll buy my maple syrup at the grocery store and be in awe of how many gallons you need to boil each time to make maple syrup! Insane.
I have been making my own maple syrup from two maple trees in our suburban front yard for a couple of years. I am a big believer in low tech/old fashioned methodologies, which also happen to usually be quite frugal. I have two observations which may relate to your post. 1) Boiling sap in a large pot on the stove does produce a bit of sticky steam. However, it’s not that big a deal for me to simply wipe down my countertops and cabinet doors and my tile floor. The residue is like a light film and does not extend more than 10 feet from the area of the stove. It’s NOT a huge sticky mess and if your kitchen is well ventilated (we do not have a range hood, just one of the old-fashioned vent fans in the wall) it will not be a big deal. I will happily trade a few minutes of rag wiping for the expense of a fancy evaporator; to me this is the frugal choice.
Also, since I only tap two trees, my net product is considerably less than what you are expecting per tree. I would say I get about a pint of syrup per tree, and yes I do process each tree’s sap separately because I am a nerd like that. (They are two slightly different maple species and I get a kick out of comparing them.) I get about 4 gallons of sap per tree depending on the season. We are in Pennsylvania.
Just my observations from someone who is kind of a backyard homesteader and actually done this on a very small scale.
We started doing this on our VT property last year and had so much fun. We ended up with a couple gallons of syrup and boiled it down with buffet pans over wood in our outdoor fireplace, then finished it off inside. It was an all-day process for several weekends, but a great way to spend weekends in March, aka the worst month in Vermont.
Amazing story-telling! I have been flicking in and out of FI blogs (just discovered the community a couple of months ago) and do not particularly have an interest in maple syrup, but ended up reading this post from start to finish! I have a bread-maker at home that I have not had much success with, so I might even put a little more effort into making some bread! Good luck on your syrup making. It really does sound like a nice life out there in your small town!
Does Kate sell her syrup to the masses? If so, where could we buy a bottle? (unfortunately I’m fresh out of sugar maples in my backyard to make my own)
Hey Rachel! Thanks for asking, but we only make enough for ourselves!
Some of my best childhood memories are making maple syrup with my grandpa. They had a large shed in the woods with the evaporator in it. Lots of hours hauling buckets, playing cribbage, and pouring syrup.
I am so happy you talked about BTU’s again! I couldn’t wait to hear more about it from you 🙂 That need has been met thank goodness……. now, are we all done talking about flame weeders for the year? I could definitely read more about those! Maybe to melt snow???
Hi FW! I’m new to your blog and emails, and I have to say, you are one of the most entertaining, laugh-out-loud bloggers I’ve read in quite some time! I learned a lot from this post, but I was seriously entertained, too.
Love the post! My family has made maple syrup in Michigan for 5 generations. Can’t wait to see how the season goes. FYI during a late night of boiling nothing is better than drinking a quarter part fireball whiskey to three quarters piping-hot almost maple syrup from the evaporator.
I have never regretted moving to one of three places in Canada that *doesn’t* have maple trees as I regret it after reading this post. Looking forward to following your syrup adventures in the spring. 🙂
My brother just started sugaring last year in New Hampshire and we’ve been enjoying the fruits (…er, jars?) of his labor! The difference between homemade and store bought syrup is staggering, I DO want to take a bath in it!!
I am so glad that you explained how your family uses up six gallons of maple syrup a year! I nearly keeled over when I read that. We maybe go through one of the Costco jars a year, so that seemed like a lotta pancakes!
I have a bread maker languishing in our attic so I might give your recipe a try. Do you use the vital wheat gluten or skip it?
I would love to do this but will concede to buy my syrup since I have no idea what trees we have (I know we have one hickory which I realized after 5 years). I LOVE going to see maple sugaring. Our neighborhood farm has the syrup lines on all of their trees in the early winter too. Our friend did the stove top method and didn’t boil down enough and ended up with mold on the syrup. Yuck! He alleges you can skim it and re-process it butttt gross.
This looks like so much fun. Come on, you gotta do the buckets! You can’t ruin those woods with pex! I’d like to try one day… Maybe one day when we have maple trees. Heck, hopefully one day we’ll have any trees at all!
So this is why those little bottles of maple syrup cost so much. I use maple syrup in oatmeal and in a salad dressing. Living in the south I will have to make due with the ones at Trader Joe’s. Interesting post
I will never whine about the cost of real maple syrup again.
Wow I never thought those beautiful leaves can be turned into something so sweet. I have never made maple syrup from scratch before. Hubby and I have been thinking about retiring on a homestead one day, so this will serve as a great guide for us!
Can’t wait to see how this goes. Your post made me go get pancakes. 🙂
Let me know if you need help with Step 10. I offer very competitive rates to fit any budget!
This post (OK, your entire blog) is full of information I hope to use someday, maybe even soon (fingers crossed…). Thanks to both you and Kate for all the detailed details. This kind of sharing is what makes the good Internet so good.
Home Sugar. You crack me up! But, in keeping with the theme of the website, maybe “SugarWoods” is more appropriate? Or “FrugalSugar”?
Here in Bristol Bay Alaska we have no maple trees; in fact we don’t really have much for trees at all, just tundra. There are some spruce and shrubby aspen and birch, and the aspen is what everyone uses in their salmon smoke houses. The birch rarely gets big enough to make good firewood (nor birch syrup which is made in other parts of Alaska). So much of the firewood around here is broken up pallets. Since we are not on a road system, everything has to come in by air or by barge in the summer, so we end up with A LOT of pallets, given that we have 12 very big salmon processors here. Pallets are given away by the truckload, and we make furniture of all sorts with them, fences, anything you can think of, and a lot of it gets burned in woodstoves to heat houses and for the traditional steam baths. Our library last year did the research on the different kinds of treatments that pallets get and which ones are toxic to burn and how to recognize those. So I must be one of the 4 people interested in BTUs; I used to be a forester. I loved your book and enjoy your blog. Having always lived in the country (which is what we used to say before the term rural became widespread) it’s fun to watch people discover so many things that we just take for granted, and to see the enjoyment in that way of life. I had a LOT to learn when I lived in Seattle for 6 months, so I appreciate all that’s involved in the learning curve. Keep up the good work!
I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the BTU conversation :)!!
I love the woodshed! Do you have plans you could share?
Thank you! We don’t have the exact plans on the blog, but I do have a detailed write-up of the process in this post: This Month On The Homestead: Building A Woodshed And Picking Blackberries.
I think it’s Littlewoods
We do backyard maple syrup, but we only tap one tree. For extremely small scale producing:
1. We boil in a cast iron dutch over a propane burner
2. We have had better luck using a hydrometer than a thermometer
3. We store the sap in a carboy and strain with cheesecloth
4. And of course use the metal buckets for aesthetics 😉
Unfortunately our sugar maple is on death’s door but this year we got over a litre of finished syrup from one tree! Homemade syrup is divine. Maple cookies are delicious, btw.
For a while a long time ago, there was this movement to simplify language, and some folks demanded it be called sirup. Yeah, looks funny even now. I have an old canning book, and on every page talking about the sugar syrup for canning fruit, the word is spelled sirup. That’s your “who knew and who cares” information for the day. You’re welcome.
My daughter and I vacationed one time in the summer in Vermont and visited the Morse farm. Of course, no sugaring was happening, but we watched a video of it and tasted samples — again and again — and of course, bought maple cream and ordered syrup to be sent home. It was the start. I grew up on molasses (or “cane syrup”) and fake maple syrup, so real maple was a new experience, and ever since we have refused to have anything but the real thing if we are having anything calling for maple syrup. I use it as a sweetener in a lot of recipes. Now I need to go home and make pancakes.
Thanks for an interesting and fun, if hunger-inducing, post!
Maple syrup is one of those things that just won’t ever happen for me living in the northwest, but my husband is bringing home a bunch of rosehips for me to try my hand at another kind of syrup 🙂
When the kids get a bit older, don’t miss reading Miracles on Maple Hill to them.
Love that you are making maple syrup! We live in NH and make our own maple syrup every year. It is a lot of work but a labor of love. Two other pieces of equipment that we use is a bottler so we make sure our syrup is up to the right temperature when we bottle it so it seals and lasts a long time! Another thing we use is a hydrometer. It lets us know the density of the syrup so it doesn’t go past and end up too heavy. My husband has been making syrup for years and has way too much information about it. Oh and another fun thing…everyone’s maple syrup tastes different. Last year we visited 13 different sugar houses and at each one the syrup tasted different. So crazy and fun! Enjoy!
The real fun is taking the batch off using the drip method. We like our syrup thick, so it doesn’t run off the pancakes. It’s fun watching faces as you see the drops start to clump and then you get a window of syrup dropping. That’s how I learned but you should have someone who knows how to help the first couple of times. In the end it is fun in the spring.
Damn you Mrs. Frugalwoods, you make it impossible to read this blog without wanting to move to Vermont! I now have all sorts of visions of building woodsheds and tapping trees that I want to make a reality. One day…
For what it’s worth, I’ve always thought the plastic lines running between the trees look pretty cool, I bet instagram would approve!
Very cool – my brother helped start a small commercial operation turning the sap from Bigleaf Maples on Vancouver Island into tasty syrup. It takes more sap for the same amount of syrup, but the end result is definitely worth it. It’s just as tasty as sugar maple (if not better).
I need an answer key, please! My guess is Babywoods though.
I was introduced to real maple syrup by an ex? Friend? Exboyfriend-friend? (we’re friends now so let’s go with friend). Grew up with pancake syrup all my life and didn’t know any better. Now I can’t turn back. Send a little down to Jersey will ya? 😉
Enjoy all that syrup you guys!
I grew up with the fake stuff too–such a revelation to taste the real deal :)!
It’s great that you’re able to work with a local expert! That’s one thing that I think is harder to do in big cities.
Babywoods in that photo?!
Looking forward to seeing the resulting Frugulwoods’ maple syrup!
Down here in southern Tasmania (the island hanging off the bottom of Australia) I have a paddock sprouting with what I’m told are sugar maples. However, they’ve been in the same spindly formation for the entire three decades that I’ve owned the property, so I kinda think they’re not going to grow up into real working trees 🙁
On another note, Mrs F, I note that your website family photo hasn’t yet been updated to include Littlewoods. Love to see a happy snap of all four of you!
We are working on the fam of four photo :)! Hopefully soon! That current pic was a selfie, so we really just need to grab the kids and take a pic 🙂
I live in the city but would love fresh home made syrup. How much do you anticipate this project costing? Will you eventually collect more and sell it?
No plans to sell our syrup–we’d just like to make enough for our own home usage since we currently buy our syrup :). I’ll keep you posted on the costs–they’ll all show up in our monthly expense reports.
Could I, in theory, make syrup out of cherry trees? I have one particularly sappy tree in the backyard.
I Was having a bad day. You saved me, thank you! You sound good. => Now I’m going to try to convince my husband we need to sugar off our Birch trees. No Maples in AK. Another reader mentioned Miracles on Maple Hill, one of our favorites, as well as Understood Betsy. Wonderful stories with maple syrup in each.
Good for you! One more step in your journey to self sufficiency. Thank goodness for Costco. For we non sugar maple hords living in the west, Costco’s pure maple syrup is a great substitute for home made. We can grow vegs all year around here in the Pacific Northwest. All it takes is a few lengths of electrical plastic grey pipe and some heavy duty plastic. I guess we all can’t have everything, so we each brag on what we can create. I will envy your maple syrup and you can envy our winter fresh vegs from the garden. OK?
I begin to understand why real maple syrup is in fact pricey in the shops. That is work, man! A lot of work. I would LOVE to do something like this but on account of how I live on a small, suburban property in semi-arid Cape Town (the dry end to boot), I think growing aloe is more likely!
Love the jaunty Vermont Evaporator Company logo!
You have forgotten one of th best uses for maple syrup! Pour it on snow, let it harden and then roll it up on a popsicle stick and Voila! Mother nature’s lollipop!! Take me back to visiting my grandparents in Georgeville, Quebec (near the Vermont boarder). Good luck with this new adventure!!! Now I know why maple syrup is so expensive, even at Costco 40:1 is crazy!!
Yum! Great idea!!
Wow! I loved this article & read it in it’s entirety, even though I have no interest in becoming a “sugarer!” I have a new appreciation for Maple Syrup! 🙂 I live in rural NE Ohio, and I have driven past the Amish farms & have seen the buckets on the trees for making maple syrup–which makes sense b/c they don’t need any “modern” equipment to do this! 🙂 I also visited Kate’s blog & printed out her tips on cooking w/ maple syrup–GREAT INFORMATION from both of you! THANK YOU! 🙂
You are most welcome! I’m so happy you enjoyed it :)!
First, that’s Littlewoods in the quiz picture because Babywoods was 9 months old when it was fall on the homestead that first year!
Second, what about maple syrup candies? Will you try making some of those? Does Kate know about how to make those? They are my favorite confection EVER and I rarely get them. Used to get them every Christmas when I was a little girl on the east coast. They are shaped into maple leaf molds or other molds like seashells (my personal fav). The crunchy crystalized outsides and the creamy insides…YUM! I even went to tour the little factory up in St. Johnsbury VT when I was 18. Oh such memories!
We love maple syrup too, but on french toast and also on ice cream. Have used it for a marinade for baked tofu also!
This sounds like a fun project. I might need to pursue it, except I use maybe a bottle of maple syrup annually. I think I’m more likely to join the cider bandwagon ;). I’m excited to read about how it goes in the spring- best of luck!
Quiz answer: Littlewoods?
My vote is to use buckets for collecting since you like to get out and hike every day anyway. ☺️ We tap about 15 trees a year, and use a game sled like the one you use to tow the kids to collect the sap in five gallon buckets. A great walk and workout on a chilly late winter day!
The thing that interested me the most is you use a bread machine! My husband gave up on that pretty early on, turns out just mixing the bread in a mixer and baking it in the oven yields the same result, but gives you a lot more options in shaping the bread, and then you don’t have to deal with the paddle in the machine.
Back when my parents lived right there in Vermont (very close to where you live), they actually had a sugar house on their property. My Dad would make maple syrup every year. He and Mom were popular guests at the homes of friends in other parts of the country, because they always gave jugs of homemade maple syrup as hostess gifts.
Boy does this sound fun. And yummy!
We started making our own maple syrup this year. We tapped 4 trees in our tiny, urban backyard in Western NY. We boiled the sap on a fireplace made of cinder blocks we got for free from neighbors. We borrowed large pans. Neighbors were upgrading to a gas fireplace, so they gave us all the wood. We asked our local grocery chain’s bakery to save the food grade buckets, they get for frosting in, for us. We drilled holes in the tops of the buckets for the tubing to fit into. So total cost was $20 for tubing and spiles. We got quite a bit of syrup, which we froze so we didn’t have to can it all. Came out great and very cheap!
There is NO WAY IN HELL that I would make my own maple syrup, for about a million reasons, but I still LOVE reading this blog post. You are a terrific writer and I love this blog even though I’m not on the FI trail (age 75, retired) and (living in the Pacific Northwest) there is a lot about your life that isn’t relevant to me. But still… I admire what you’re doing and I cheer you on from afar. YOU GO GIRL!
Fascinating! My big family uses about 20 gallons of maple syrup a year. Its a pretty good deal at Costco, but still quite expensive. I grew up using Log Cabin syrup which actially used to be about 10% real maple syrup. The kids use maple syrup on waffles, and I sweeten my home made granola and yogurt smoothies with it.
It’s so exciting you’re prepping for your first maple syrup run! You should try the sap straight out of the tree at least once. It’s like a sweet water. Very tasty!
I’ve been spoiled with fresh stock of maple syrup made by family for years! When I first started dating my husband, I went straight to his place after visiting family and started filling his fridge with various homemade items, including maple syrup. His eyes lit up and I still joke to this day that’s when he fell in love. It was also the favours at our wedding. I have great memories making the syrup with my 90 yr old grandfather, and various other family members.
Looking forward to hearing of your adventures in the spring!
Brilliantly entertaining as always! I come from an upper Midwest family and every year for Christmas, we would get a gallon of “the good stuff” as a family present from some relative. The first time I went to the store for syrup on my own, I grabbed a bottle I recognized, only to learn it was three times the price of the fake stuff! My 21-year-old self almost cried to spend $13 on syrup but there was no way I was leaving the store without the real thing.
I just realized that maple syrup can be used the way we use honey out here in the west. I hadn’t ever thought about it but your description of potential uses are all ways I use honey today. 🙂 Learn something new all the time!
Have a great time making “the good stuff”!
Cool post! I’m a huge Laura Ingalls fan-her books are the only reason I know anything about maple syrup! We’ve got 3 maples(and 2 Japanese maples) on our property-not sure I can convince my husband to make our own maple syrup next spring, but it’s great learning about the current day process.
In procuring your storage containers, I suggest you visit the bakery department of your local grocery store and ask for their empty icing buckets. They are food-safe and lidded. Best of all they are FREE. I use them for so many things!
Thank you! That’s a great tip :)!
If you ever have time for another project, here is an interesting look at using reverse osmosis to reduce the water/ boil time of your sap
“The really short version of how you make syrup is thus:
1. Extract sap from a tree by putting a tap into said tree
2. Boil this sap down into syrup using an evaporator
3. DRINK THE SYRUP. From a cup. Maybe two cups, one in each hand”
But-but….but Mrs. Frugalwoods the BTU’s! WHY is softwood better for boiling maple syrup? Does it burn hotter? Or maybe…cooler? Which is better because once sap is boiling it doesn’t need to get hotter?
I am in the middle of planning a coppice for future firewoood…count me among the four who reads every detailed firewood post with extreme interest and appreciation!
But was it Babywoods or Littlewoods?
Baked maple syrup bread sounds heavenly!
Read your February expense report today and realized I had never read this post. So interesting because of the memories it brings….back in the 1980s and 90s my parents lived up the road from where you are now and bought their property complete with a fully equipped sugarhouse! Dad borrowed brains from a neighbor and learned to do the process, and they sugared every year they lived there. They had a gravity flow tube system already installed but there was still some lugging buckets around. Dad spent many happy hours boiling down his sap, and we all enjoyed the fruits of his labors as he made enough for the entire family’s needs. In his day the evaporator did the bulk of the boiling but he still often brought small batches into the kitchen to finish it off on the kitchen stove. Now I live in SC and my supply comes from Trader Joe’s, but I have wonderful memories of those years of wonderful homemade syrup. (BTW we all thought the grade B, thicker, darker syrup was the best kind of all even though that’s backwards from advertising trends.)