{recap} Power to the Boil 2011

Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to announce that Dianna has her name in lights {finally} and that I’m not credited with her wonderful posts any longer. Dianna has her final post on the 2011 maple syruping season. If you missed the “How To” or my photo diaries on: tapping and one their three “big boils”, take a look. Congrats Spring Street Sugar Yard on another successful season. -Christina

{my favorite label}

This has been a slow, horrible spring; cold and snowy with few truly warm days.  It’s perfect for maple syruping.  Some people call late March snows “sugar snows” because they extend the syruping season.  While I am not crazy enough to be happy when we have unusually cold springs, I do appreciate the chance to spend an extra weekend boiling.

We had three boils this year instead of our usual two; on March 14, 19, and April 2.  We could probably do one more weekend but a) we are running out of wood and b) we are ready to move on with our lives.  We considered boiling on the weekend of March 26, but it was so cold that we didn’t feel like sitting around the driveway for 8 hours at a stretch.  We simply kept the sap in storage containers outside for an additional week and did a bigger boil on April 2 when the temperatures climbed all the way to 45 or so during the day instead of the miserable 25 on the prior weekend.   Large boils can be problematic because it takes time to reduce the sap.  Michael started that boil around 7:30 in the morning and was just finishing the outside portion of the boil when I crawled into bed at 10, exhausted from being outside all day.   Our evaporator is a small home model, so processing 90 gallons in one day is a challenge.


{hanging out during “The Boil #2”}

Once we take the syrup off the outside wood fire, we finish it on the stove.  Because it was getting late in our last boil, we took the evaporator off the fire a little sooner than usual and poured the hot near-syrup through a big sieve lined with cheesecloth into two three-gallon pots and one ten-gallon pail.  We put the pots directly on the stove and started boiling them down the next morning.  As the level in the pots receded, we added more sap from the larger pail, until all of the sap fit into the two pots.  Commercial producers would shudder at this technique because they move the sap from start to finish as quickly as possible to keep it light in color.  We just don’t care if some of our syrup is grade C instead of grade A.   But we have noticed that earlier in the season, the syrup is lighter.

{Two pots of near-syrup}

Finishing the syrup took a couple of hours of indoor boiling with our stove vent on full blast. If you don’t vent, then you end up with a fine layer of delicious maple sugar crystals over every surface of your kitchen.  Friends who tried doing their entire boil inside ended up with peeling wallpaper.  Way too much steam.


The syrup is done at 219 degrees if you live at sea level. You can see a change in the boil, the bubbles become smaller and the liquid looks thicker.  At that point, we packed all of our syrup into clean quart mason jars and let them settle for a couple of days.  At the end of that time, you hold them up to the window and see an inch or so of sediment at the bottom of the jar.

{Michael filling Mason jars with hot syrup}

Commercial syrup makers filter their syrup through felt, but we have found decanting it carefully is just fine for home use.  We probably lose 10% of our total volume to sediment.  We might reduce that a few percentage points by filtering, but we just haven’t bothered.  Doing a final filter through fine cheese cloth takes too long because the cloth gets clogged and you have to clean it frequently.  If you run it through a tea towel, you risk a flavor of laundry detergent in your syrup.  Not cool.

{sediment at the bottom of the jar}

We decant each jar back into a big pot, leaving the crud behind, reheat the syrup to the boiling point, then pack it into clean, sealable 8- or 10-ounce jars.  We bought our jars at SKS in Watervliet, NY. Seven new cases this year because over time jars go out into the universe and do not make their way home again.

{Power to the Boil}

For the first time, Michael made labels for the jars. He couldn’t figure out how to print an image onto our labels, so he just printed them on regular paper and taped them onto the jars, a low-tech solution.  We are low-tech people.  My favorite label shows a picture of Michael, who is 5 foot 7, standing next to Russell, who is 6 foot 8, with their arms around each other (see top pic!)

The final count for this year, tapping 8 trees in 5 yards in our neighborhood:  7 gallons.  We will take a third of the syrup, give our co-syruper Russell a third, and spread the other third around the neighborhood to the tree owners and to friends and neighbors who stopped by to watch and chat.

Now on to the gardening season…


7 Comments Add yours

  1. What a process! Thank you for sharing it. I LOVE maple syrup and grew up eating “the real thing”. After moving to the Northwest, it is harder to get ahold of “the real thing” so my parents usually end up sending me some from NY. Happy cooking!

  2. Dianna says:

    I am originally California, so I get homesick for lemon trees and kumquats. You win some, you lose some.

    1. Dianna says:

      that is I am Californian, not California!

  3. Johanna in Tully says:

    We tried our hand at making maple syrup a few years ago and with the tips from your post, we are going to try our hand at it again. Forget the felt and have more fun with the process…that’s our goal this time. Oh, and your labels are hilarious, thanks for the info and the laughs! Sugar bush (all 6 of our trees), here we come!

    1. Dianna says:

      That’s great, I am glad to have inspired you to try again. We tried straining it and it was just a mess that didn’t quite work. Decanted syrup is definitely good enough – just let it settle for about a week or so before decanting. And having rum and/or meatloaf, if you go in for that sort of thing, is helpful – you need to keep your spirits up while sitting around the fire all day. Food, company, lax standards. You can’t go wrong.

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