Tapping the tradition of sap to sweet maple syrup
Maple syrup is among one of the oldest commodities produced in the United States. Northeastern Native Americans managed maple groves, tapped trees and gathered sap to make syrup when European explorers first arrived and there are many who carry o...
Maple syrup is among one of the oldest commodities produced in the United States. Northeastern Native Americans managed maple groves, tapped trees and gathered sap to make syrup when European explorers first arrived and there are many who carry on this long standing tradition to this day.
Brett and Brenda Kent, are probably best recognized in Park Rapids as beekeepers but they also dabble in “maple syruping.”
Brett Kent began harvesting maple sap last year and this last week he and his wife Brenda were kind enough to share the experience.
Brett’s knowledge about the process came through means of friends, reading, YouTube videos and most importantly trial and error.
They harvest their sap at a “secret maple grove” that is owned by a friend of a friend of Brett’s.
Rows and rows of blue buckets collecting one of Mother Nature’s sweetest resources as far as the eyes can see.
Based on the size of the trees Brett guesses some of them are well over 200 years old. Trees so massive in scale they are humbling to stand beneath.
While in the woods, Brett held up an old rusted out sugar can that was more than likely used many years ago for collecting maple sap. And even though the trees have healed themselves it is obvious where they had been tapped from years ago.
Maple sap started run-ning nearly three weeks early this year.
Sap runs best when daytime temperatures are between 30 to 40 degrees and overnight temperatures are below freezing; that trend needs to continue for several days.
The temperature fluctuation creates pressure which causes the sap to flow when the tree is tapped; typically with a spile.
The Kents have nearly 200 buckets and bags spread out among hundreds of trees. They’ve already collected over 1,300 gallons of sap this season and it is still running.
According to Brett, sap does not flow every day and the amount varies day to day but one tap hole could potentially produce 10 to 12 gallons in a season, depending on the tree species.
Because there are no preservatives involved in the process of making homemade syrup, the sap will not keep unless it is frozen therefore it’s best to boil down as quickly as possible.
After the tree is tapped and the sap is collected it’s cooked down over a very high heat for several hours. The water evaporates out of the sap and condenses down to maple syrup.
Typically 40 gallons of sap will only yield about one gallon of syrup.
Brett uses large, shallow stainless steel rectangular pans for even cooking and the large surface area in-creases the evaporation rate to reduce boiling time.
He constructed two side by side wood-burning pits in his backyard out of ce-ment blocks to hold the pans over the flames. He also created platforms out of palettes in order to quickly slide the mixture off the heat.
If a well-ventilated area is not available the boiling has to be done outside because substantial quantities of water are cooked off causing vast amounts of steam.
As the sap boils and condenses down, more sap is added to the pans. As it continues to boil the sugar becomes more concentrated and the temperature of the liquid rises.
When it darkens and the boiling bubbles become smaller, it is removed from the heat, filtered and finished on a propane heat to regulate the heat better.
At this stage boiling the syrup is time sensitive. When the batch is ready to come off the heat there is a very small window to re-move it before the syrup scorches and burns.
The syrup has to be properly filtered to remove any floating particles or sugar sand; usually a suitable pre-filter paper and a wool felt or cheesecloth material. It is important that no detergents are used to clean the filters because it will affect the flavor of the syrup.
After the sap is boiled down and filtered it is then officially syrup and ready to be bottled.
Brett and Brenda pro-duce syrup on a much larger scale to sell at the Park Rapids Farmer’s Market. More often than not maple syrup is produced solely for personal usage.
Whatever, the reason a lot of hard, yet uncompli-cated work goes into pro-ducing that sweet brown liquid.