The process of collecting sap and boiling it down into delicious maple syrup is truly a passion and a labor of love and it takes a commitment that is above and beyond what many of us would go through just to enjoy some of that liquid gold. The passion and dedication required to produce your own maple syrup is similar to the passion and dedication to shoot a large buck or harvest an old Tom. It takes preparation, planning, hard work, commitment and reevaluation of your season oh and good equipment and lots of time.
|Bubba repairing a tap and line|
For Bubba it starts by gaining access to land that has plenty of sugar maples. Once that access is gained a scouting mission to find the best trees and a plan to get the sap out of the trees and into collection pails begins along with equipment repairs and cutting and stacking wood that will be used to fuel the evaporator. There are many different ways to collect the sap from simply taping the tree and hanging a bucket to running a connection of rubber tubing along the trees acting as a collection highway that allows the sap from multiple trees to run into a single collection container. The later makes the process of collecting the sap quicker and somewhat easier. Especially when you still have two feet of snow on the ground.
|100 gallon holding tank over flowing|
|Transferring the sap into the tank on the truck|
Once you have the sap collected you now need a place and equipment to boil that sap down into syrup and all this occurs in the "Sugar House". Bubba's shed is a multi-function facility in that it has many applications such as a meat room during the hunting season where we process all our deer, but for about six weeks during the months of February and March this shed is officially known as the "Sugar House". The Sugar House is where the sugaring process really takes shape. The sap is pumped from the containers used to pick up the sap from the field and into a hold tank on the outside of the Sugar House. From here the sap is feed through a filter and pipe system that is connected to a wood fueled evaporator. This evaporator is the tool used to boil the sap which removes the water from the sap leaving nothing but pure sweet and Delicious maple syrup. This boiling process takes some time as it takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of pure maple syrup. I refer this part of the process being similar to watching paint dry, but knowing that the results will taste much better.
|The evaporator boiling away|
|Jersey Jim stoking the fire|
|It take someone with a eagle eye to watch the thermometer|
As the boiled sap moves through the different sections of the evaporator it and the water is boiled off the sap will be ready to be "drawn off" which means it is removed from the evaporator into a finishing pan with the temperature of the syrup now being 7.5 degrees above the boiling point of water. Once the syrup has been transferred into the smaller pan called a finishing pan, the syrup will continue to be cooked and the density checked with a hydrometer until the the sugar maker, Bubba, is satisfied with it and then it is ready to be filtered. The syrup is now run from the finishing pan and through a filtering machine and then into another finishing pan where it will continue to be heated to a minimum of a 180 degrees for bottling.
|Bubba checking the syrup in the finishing pan|
|Bubba preparing the syrup for the filter|
|Liquid gold as it comes out of the filter|
This process will be repeated daily until the nightly freeze stops and the sap no longer flows. For Bubba this means at work for 7am where he works for an 8 hour day and then heads home where he will collect sap and then start the boiling process which many nights will last until almost midnight. On the weekend Bubba starts this process first thing in the morning and once again it will continue well into the night. As I said it is truly a labor of love and requires great dedication and a deep passion.
|The Finished Product|
Finding help can be difficult at times but Bubba's rule is simple, If you want syrup you have to work - no exceptions. So work we do. Even the boys from New Jersey get into it and make at least one long weekend trip to the Sugar House where they spend the weekend sugaring. The one added advantage to the weekend work is the opportunity to cook up a nice big breakfast for everyone helping out which allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labor as well enjoy a bottle of fresh made Connecticut Maple Syrup.
|A must have when evaluating your work|
|A full griddle - Venison sausage, bacon, potatoes|
If you have never tried pure maple syrup, then I encourage to do so and before balking at the price, think about the passion, dedication and work that goes into making just one gallon of this incredible liquid gold and then pour ever so carefully.
Below are some great links for additional information on sugaring and Maple Syrup.