We've been collecing maple sap for a few weeks now. The flavor changes as the buds form on the twigs, and the syrup isn't as good. The silver maples have started to bud, so we stopped collecting that sap.
It's time to start boiling. Last year we had a fancier set up that our friend, Mike put together. This year, Mike has his arch at the Daisy Garten Farmstead so he can demo the boiling, so we're using a somewhat lower tech system.
I got three really big pots [probably a total of $20 for all three at Goodwill] and I built a really hot fire in our firepit.
To start, I filled them all with sap - the three pots together hold about 10 gallons of sap. As they boiled down, I transferred the syrup from the blue pot on the left, to the blue pot on the right, and from the blue pot on the right to the tall pot in the back. At the end of the day, all the boiled down syrup was in the tall pot and I brought it inside to finish boiling it off.
The pots sit on grill racks that are set on two heavy iron bars. The system worked fablously until I noticed that the grill racks were sagging from the very hot fire. I rearranged things a bit - very carefully! so that the bars were closer togther and I added a second rack under the left side. The last thing I wanted to happen was for all my syrup to spill into the fire because the rack broke. It worked fine for the rest of the boiling. No broken racks, no spilled syrup.
A couple of things to note if you're planning on boiling sap yourself.
- You're going to need strong racks and a very hot fire.
- To get a hot fire, you need a lot of smaller wood in an open arrangement in the center of the fire - think teepee. Small wood = the size of your forearm.
- Surround the smaller wood with larger pieces of wood around the outside. That forces the heat to the center were the pots are. As the big wood burns down, you can move it to the center and put more big wood where it was. Big wood = the size of your upper arm.
- Use a ladle to move the sap from pan to pan. It will pick up ash from the fire, so as you move the syrup to the next pot, pour it through a strainer. That takes out a lot of ash.