or Venting my Spline
I did it once and will not do it again. Like marriage and skydiving, making maple syrup is a one-time activity. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have the right equipment. Maybe it’s because I did it all wrong. Maybe it’s because I’m retired and I’ve gotten lazy. Whatever the case, I am done.
I like to think I knew what I was getting into. I read up on making maple syrup. I even attended the Michigan Maple Syrup convention last year as a full-fledged member of the Michigan Maple Syrup Producers Association. Of course, I never received my renewal application this year so maybe they had already written me off and knew something I didn’t. Whatever the case, I thought I could do it. After all, people have been making maple syrup down through the ages. At least, as far back as the days when Native Americans walked these woods. I had purchased the splines and buckets last spring so those items I already had. (A spline is a small metal tube you insert into the hole in the tree to extract the sap. The sap enters one end of the spline and then drips out into a bucket directly underneath the tube.)
I need to make it clear that I DID make maple syrup. Almost a cup’s worth. Yeah, it was a little cloudy since I didn’t filter it properly at the end) and it is a bit off flavor (although not disagreeably so) and it IS plenty sweet. It’s just that…well, making maple syrup is time consuming and expensive given the outcome.
I tapped three trees. I think they were all Sugar Maples. I have to admit that I didn’t mark them last summer like I should have, and so when it came time this March to tap my trees, I could only remember one of them as a sugar maple. In theory, the bark should have helped me recognize them, but it didn’t. During my search, I ended up tapping three oaks before I finally found the two maples I needed. (Since oaks don’t give sap, it was evident early on that the trees weren’t maples and I was the only sap.)
The tapping went well and within two days I had plenty of sap–or at least enough to work with. I then preceded to filter the sap using a coffee filter, a relatively easy and quick job. It took care of a few pieces of bark and a couple of assorted bugs.
Then the work started. I had read that syrup making should be done outside because of the amount of water that has to be boiled off, which in my case was going to be more than 2 gallons. I had read horror stories of people boiling sap inside and having their wallpaper peel off. I also read that one could use a gas BBQ grill and that seemed to be the simplest way for me to do it. Well, it wasn’t simple. I put two wide pans of syrup on the grill (wide allows more of the sap to be exposed to evaporation) and turned the grill on high. Then I waited for it to boil. But it never did. The sap got hot but even after nearly three hours it never boiled.
The water in the sap did evaporate though, just slowly. To help speed things up a bit, I put a pot of sap on my gas stove and got that boiling rather easily and as the sap on the grill warmed away, I added the sap from the stove and my syrup making progressed. There was a problem however. Since I started this project in late afternoon (dunno know why), night started to fall before my boiling was done.
Luckily, by the time dark fell, I was done to my last gallon of sap and so I turned off the grill and brought everything inside. Put a pot again on the stove and began to boil in earnest. And I boiled.
And I boiled and I boiled.
And I boiled until a candy thermometer in the sap/syrup mixture hit 220 degrees, which is the temperature the sap needed to reach to be considered syrup. The wallpaper didn’t peel but the windows in the house did fog big time. At least low humidity wasn’t a problem in my house that night.
That’s when I turned off the stove and poured my syrup into a mixing cup. I had about the amount I should have. One lousy cup. Well, not quite. (Deep sigh…)
And so I called it a night and refrigerated the syrup.
The next day I reheated it and poured the contents into a pint bottle I had boiled to sterilize. I should have filtered the syrup to get out any crystallized sugars and remaining items of a non-sap origin. However, being cheap I did not buy the proper filter. Instead, I tried to use a coffee filter (as some articles suggest), but found the syrup way too thick; all I ended up doing was losing some of the precious liquid.
So, I just poured it into a bottle and heated it all to 180 degrees, capped it and let it cool before placing it in the fridge. Theoretically, the sterilizing and the heating of the syrup in the bottle should allow it to be kept at room temperature for a couple of months if not a year; however, I am not that confident of my boiling job, especially given my syrup making experiences, so I will just leave it in the fridge, thank you very much.
So my maple syruping career is over. I have some syrup, but it’s an expensive half bottle. How expensive. I figure the total cost at $15. Now I’m looking to recoup my investment. Anyone out there need three spiles?