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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"They All Laughed At Christopher Columbus" or How We Made Syrup

Believe me there were some snickers when the first tap was drilled in but as the week moved on and the buckets started filling, no one could pass by without asking what we were up to and how it was going.

That first frozen drip became a steady flow and we co-opted trees from our neighbors on either side.  For the past week we collected sap each evening and stored it in big, collapsible containers.  I can't lie, it was my husband who I Tom-Sawyered into the actual labor of boiling the sap but I knew he'd like it.  He did three boils watching guard with his laptop from his folding chair.  Occasionally, he'd pot on some seedlings or thatch the lawn too.  You don't have to actually watch the boil until the very end but obviously, you have to be aware of it.  Firstly, he used a charcoal barbecue but it was difficult to keep the temperature right, secondly, he used our neighbor's state-of-the-art gas grill and lastly, trying to modify the process further, he bought himself a "Bayou Patio Stove".  Ultimately, he preferred his last option but fuel is the hidden cost.

While my husband did all the big boiling, I helped with the collection and the initial straining of each batch of sap through cheesecloth. Once the boil outside was complete, we finished up inside with exhaust fan humming and towels draped over our cupboards to product the varnish.  Lastly, I would hold the orlon filter while the newly made syrup had a final filtering.

The last boil on Saturday night went very long.  At 11pm I begged off to bed and woke at 1:30 to find my husband in the kitchen still boiling away.  Now don't feel too badly for him, he also was playing Team Fortress 2 with a wee glass of gin at his side. Apparently, the gas had run out half an hour after I had fallen asleep and he had to move the operation inside.  So here he was and I could not leave him in this hour of need though our bed called me back.

I tried to express my regret over the situation that left him all alone in the dark of night boiling sap because I wanted to follow the path of my ancestors.

I tried to console him (read: abate my guilt). "I'm so sorry honey. This is just awful I never meant for it to be like this.  You must be miserable" (I hadn't seen the gin yet).  I kept apologizing for what he had been tasked with until he growled "I AM FINE!  The only thing that is making me upset is you telling me how awful the job is."

Point taken.

The batch turned out perfectly and we wrapped it up with the final filtering about 3AM.  On Sunday morning, while he slept in, my sister (who is visiting) and I took the second batch which was a little runny and thickened it up properly then divided it all into bottles to share.

Our complete haul of sap was around 30 gallons which boiled down to about 3 quarts of syrup.  Total boiling time was close to 40 hours.  Our fuel consumption was a bag and half of charcoal and 2 canisters of LPG.  However, I am not exaggerating when I tell you this is THE BEST SYRUP I HAVE EVER TASTED.  It is gorgeous.  We had our neighbors over for a pancake dinner on Saturday night and we all kept going back for more.  My mother-in-law is coming over from England this summer so we've stashed a bottle in the freezer for her.  

I promise you, next year there will be a lot more folks tapping their trees on our street.  What a terrific experience.  It is a huge investment of time but it is one week out of our year and the fruits of our labor never tasted so sweet.

 Basically, how me made our own homemade Ancestor-inspired syrup:
Collecting sap from the tapped tree to store in the refrigerator until we boiled

Initial filter of sap

  Outside boil (set aside 8-12 hours) LOL

Inside/final boil turning sap into syrup--at about 220F at our altitude.

Final filter (this one was @ 3AM)

We know from Nora's Cake experiment I can't take appetizing photos of food but I assure you this bottle of syrup is Nectar of the Maple Gods.


  1. Fantastic! I am loving your stories and this just adds icing on the cake or syrup on the pancake!!Cousin Patsy

  2. Awesome! I am so glad that you guys took pictures of everything. Can we tempt you over this direction with the promise of Sebastian's epic Luftwaffles??? :)

  3. Awesome experience. Next up: we keep bees and make honey! Kidding.

  4. Loved your story! Found you on Tap My Trees. Here's a little montage I put together

    It was my first year too. I wish I could show those guys at the hardware store my syrup. They shook their heads and said, "Do you know how many gallons of sap it takes...?" I answered, "It's February." I'm 61 years old and this has been a great experience.

  5. Joanne--I tried to e-mail you back but I don't know if it reached you. Congratulations on your adventure too! I couldn't access your post but maybe if you try e-mailing it to me at

    Keep it up! I know we will do it again. :-)