I confess that one of my favorite days of the year is maple boil day. I get to spend the whole day outside. It smells divine. There's a fire to warm me up when I get chilly. There is an unlimited amount of tea made with hot maple sap.
It's a day spent sitting in front of the fire snuggled in a blanket with a book and a cup of tea.
And it's a day spent hauling wood and sap buckets. And moving the sap from pan to pan. And taking pictures of the whole process for posterity.
If you're going to boil sap, then you have to try some tea made with it. I like to use sap that's boiled down for an hour or so in the pot, but isn't too sweet yet. Herbal teas like peach are our all time favorites for maple boiling day and we go through a lot of it.
We boil in our fire pit. Our fire pit that sits just outside off our patio.
Our fire pit that I completely dismantled in the fall so that we could dig it level and pour a slab under it.
We did dig it level, but then it got too cold to pour the slab, so it sat in piles of bricks and blocks on the patio until the other day.
When Lily and I remantled it.
Being that this is mud season and all, the place where we put it was really muddy. Which is a problem for building fires and keeping them lighted.
Also, keeping the fire pit blocks from sinking to China.
So Eric laid an 8x4 piece of plywood down on the mud and Lily and I laid bricks on the plywood and then built the fire pit on the bricks, on the plywood and prayed it wouldn't burn.
It didn't burn. Too much wet underneath the plywood and the bricks insulated the bottom plenty.
This year I built the sides higher so they'd surround the pans and heat things more efficiently. It worked like a charm. This was the best boil ever.
I got up early on Saturday and built a glorious fire in my glorious fire pit and boiled and boiled and boiled. We boiled 35 gallons [8 buckets, 4-5 gallons each] in 12 hours. Not super efficient, but pretty good. That'll yeild us about a gallon of syrup when we're all done. [Plus, the season isn't over yet and we may be able to get a few more buckets of sap off our tree.]
Which brings me to this little reminder. You get 1 gallon of syrup for every 40 gallons or so of sap. This means that you have to boil off 39 gallons of water. Don't try to boil sap in your house. You do not want 39 gallons of water vapor in your house. A friend tried it and short circuited the electric in his kitchen. Don't go there.
That said, I often finish the syrup in the house, where I can watch it better. We boil it down almost completely outside, then bring it in for the night and boil off the last gallon or so in the morning. I put the finished syrup in jars and then use my steam canner to seal them up.
Boiling all day takes a lot of wood and you want it to burn hot, so pick your wood carefully and plan ahead.
Use small dry pieces about the size of your forearm or smaller. You want lots of surface area for burning. In addition, I put larger pieces on either side to keep the sides a bit cooler [where we're standing and stirring] and to make great coals for cooking on later.
The fire will need constant supervision to maintain a rolling boil in your pans. Keep adding wood.
I use a huge turkey roasting pan that I got for $12 at Goodwill to boil in. Each part hold 3 gallons. I fill them both up with sap and as it cooks down, I pour the stuff from the right pan into the left pan. The stuff in the left pan gets darker and darker, thicker and thicker. I add new sap only to the right pan.
See that big 3 gallon pot up behind the roasting pans? [Goodwill $6] That pot catches a lot of heat from the fire and is an excellent place to pre-warm the sap before it goes into the big pan on the fire. Prewarming is not necessary, but sure helps speed things up when you have big ice blocks in the sap buckets.
I use a 4 cup glass measuring cup to move the sap from pan to pan and I use assorted ladles when I need them. I keep a small strainer [the size that fits atop a wide mouth jar] close by to fish large pieces of ash and bugs out.
Boiling sap over an open fire this way is pretty messy. Ash gets everywhere. The occasional bug will fly in. The pans will be covered, covered!, with soot and have to be scrubbed two or three times to get clean again.
It's worth it. There is nothing like the smell and taste of your own maple syrup.