Maple Syrup 101: Tap Your Tree
Do you know the difference between pancake syrup and maple syrup? Pancake syrup is the kind you find at the supermarket with, let’s say, a logo of a log cabin or a favorite aunt on it–and is primarily made of not-very-maple-y corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup. Maple syrup is made of, ta da, maple syrup.
In a case of unusually clear labeling laws, only pure maple syrup is allowed to be called maple syrup–any product that is less than 100 percent maple is usually referred to as imitation maple syrup, pancake syrup, or just syrup. Canadians sometimes refer to imitation maple syrup as sirop de poteau (pole syrup) because it tastes like it might as well have been tapped from telephone poles.
It takes approximately 40 gallons to produce one gallon of syrup–as of December 2008, the average wholesale price for a gallon of pure maple syrup is $44. One way to trim down on the cost of syrup and get a fabulous do-it-yourself activity in at the same time is to tap your own maple trees to collect the sap.
Tapping maple trees is environmentally sustainable–tapping a healthy, mature maple creates a “wound” in the tree, but it does not affect the health of the tree. Commercial maple tappers are able to tap trees, some with multiple taps, for decades.
Tapping your own trees might sound a bit daunting, but with the right equipment and a little instruction, it’s simple. The trick is to be ready when the sap starts to flow (sometime in February or March depending upon weather conditions)–this means knowing your maple trees (Sugar, Black, Red, and Silver Maples will all yield a lot of sap) and knowing what supplies you’ll need.
The process involves tappng the tree when the sap begins to run and collecting the sap over a period of time. Although you can use the sap straight, some even drink it, the most common use of maple sap is to boil the water off until it is reduced to syrup. Because of the amount of steam generated, this is most often done outside on a gas grill or a small make-shift fire pit with support for a pot.
If you are interested in tapping trees in your yard, visit www.tapmytrees.com. This awesome site offers a starter kit, with all the equipment you need and a guide providing straight forward instruction on how to identify your maple trees, tap them, and process the sap.
Storing Maple Syrup
Maple syrup should be stored in a cool place until opened. Once opened it must be refrigerated. For long-term storage, pure maple syrup retains its flavor best when kept in the freezer. Maple syrup will not freeze solid and can be poured into smaller containers for use. If you purchased syrup in tin containers, it is recommended, after opening, that you pour it into clean, odor-free glass jars (like canning jars) and then put those into the refrigerator or freezer.