Little House in the Big Woods is a book that changed the season of spring for our family. Two years ago my boy and I shared reading this wonderful tale, and we both really enjoyed it. I forgot just how great those books that I read as a little girl were. I remember when my sister and I would sit in the top bunk of our bunk beds and listen to our own mom read aloud Laura Ingall’s writing. I have been collecting these volumes at the thrift store over the years, just waiting for a time when my boy would have the patience to sit through a chapter or two. And so we have.
Little House in the Big Woods was the first in the series that we read, and when we finished the part about the maple sugaring we decided to follow the Ingall’s lead and make some delicious syrup of our own. Our plans came to fruition thanks to some serendipity on my husband’s part (he had tapped the trees a few days earlier without telling Eben or I).
When we went outside to inspect the containers that had been hooked to the trees. We were surprised and excited to see that we already had four gallons of sap to boil on our woodstove.
Maple sap is unbelievably clear right from the tree and it has the faintest sweet taste.
Some people drink the sweet sap right from the trees, but this is not recommended. It is best to boil it down to remove any bacteria or contaminants, so this is what we did.
As the sap boils down and the water evaporates, it takes on a golden deliciousness that is unrivaled by any other sweet that I can compare it to.
The process isn’t a hard one, but it is lengthy. It is not something to rush through. In fact, we learned this from experience, as we rushed our first batch. It got too hot too quickly at the end and so it came out about half maple candy and half super delicious syrup. (I should have paid closer attention to what Laura’s grandma was doing in the kitchen while everyone else was dancing in the book!)
Not exactly the end of the world, but it did decrease the amount of pourable syrup that we had. It reminded me so much of honey at that state; the sugar crystals were like yummy comb just dripping with all of that gooey sweetness.
We only have two trees that we are SURE are maples, so we have to make several small batches. But each season our yield has been about six cups of heavenly syrup.
I swear though, at the end of each spring, once all of the sap has been collected and the syrup sits in recycled jars in our refrigerator… I feel as if all that is keeping me from becoming a living, breathing Ingall is a pair of black laceup shoes and a calico dress with a bonnet. In fact, I might just get myself a such a get-up for this sugaring season.
If you have access to some maple trees (sugar maple, red maple, or black maple,) here are some simple tips on making your own syrup on a small scale.
:: Sap can be collected once spring is on the horizon. A good rule is that once the days get warm and nights are cold you can be sure that maple trees will produce. The end of collecting sap comes once maple trees begin to blossom with buds of foliage.
:: During the weeks that your trees are producing and sap is flowing, collect your sap daily.
:: To collect your sap you will tap your trees and hook containers for collecting to the taps. You can use clean plastic jugs or large plastic food grade containers. Be sure to clean any containers being used and rinse with hot water before use.
:: The sap will drip from the taps that are drilled into the trees and collect in the containers that are hooked on the taps. To collect the sap you will pour it from the outdoor container attached to the tree and into a large storage container. Filter the sap by pouring it through a cheesecloth when transferring to the larger container.
:: The sap should be stored in a refrigerator and used within a week to make your syrup.
Making Maple Syrup
Making syrup is a process of evaporation and condensation. Excess water is boiled from the sap and evaporates. This concentrates the clear sap down to a fraction of its original volume, making syrup. Amazingly, it takes 10 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup. Boiling sap in small batches is the easiest way for a family to make their own syrup. We did the first portion of our boiling on our woodstove, but if you only have a kitchen stove this can be done as well, just make sure that you have good ventilation, like a hood fan.
Fill a flat pan or large pot ¾ full with sap. Place the pot on the stove. Once the sap has decreased in volume to 1/2 the depth of the pot you can add more sap. If the sap is boiling over the edges of the pot, one trick is to rub the edge of the pot rim with a paper towel that has a drop of vegetable oil on it.
Once you are out of sap to add to your large pot and the sap has taken on a golden color it is time to transfer it to a smaller pot. Continue to boil the sap until it takes on the consistency of syrup. To know whether the consistency is right, dip a spoon into the syrup; as it runs off of the spoon it will leave a coating on the spoon that does not drip off. Once this happens your syrup is finished.
It is important to filter your syrup after boiling. This can be done using a simple coffee filter. Pour the syrup in small amounts through a coffee filter, letting it collect in a clean container.
You can then pour the filtered syrup into sterilized bottles with caps.
Your homemade syrup should be used within eight weeks and should be kept in a refrigerator at all times. It can be frozen to extend shelf life to up to six months.
Syrup makes a wonderful gift as well as a perfect topper for many yummy breakfasts and desserts.
Here are some recipes for some yummy treats from Rhythm of the Home that you can make using your homemade syrup.
Julia Daby is a Registered Nurse who lives happily with her husband and little boy in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. She enjoys crafts of all kinds, eating good food, reading, and being outdoors. Most important of all….she enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She has a store on etsy where she and her twin sell Waldorf Inspired dolls and share sewing and fiber tutorials to inspire creativity in other Mamas. She writes about life, family and creativity at Happiness Comes. She also can be found at Windfall Dolls, where she and her sister give away Waldorf inspired dolls to deserving little ones.