Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A show of enthusiasm

At 16, almost 17, Jacob doesn’t get excited very often. He might show some enthusiasm over a sports car or electronic gadget, but not over things to do with animals or nature. Like many teens, he’d become a bit jaded. So when I suggested that he accompany me to the woods behind our house to at least see the taps on the maple trees, it didn’t surprise me that he declined.

Although Jacob initially showed no interest in the pots of water-like liquid that I started boiling on Sunday, by Wednesday, the sweet, golden fluid in the steaming pot had become more concentrated and tasted distinctly of maple syrup, just more diluted. Jacob loves maple syrup. Tasting that concoction seemed to awaken a tiny bit of interest in him.

“Wait, I’ll come with you,” he decided.

I was going to check the 20 or so buckets in the woods to see whether any were overflowing, and if so, I’d pour off a bit so as not to waste the precious sap. Since it was our neighbor who tapped the trees, I didn’t want to just help myself to large amounts of sap, but if they were overflowing, pouring some off the top would leave room for more to fill through the rest of the day. Besides, JD did tell me I could help myself to some.

Larissa ran ahead of me to show Jacob the tapped trees.

“Look, the bark’s wet. This one’s overflowing,” I said.

Larissa showed Jacob how to remove the cover from the metal bucket. He took the bucket off the hook and poured a bit of sap into our pail. There were so many buckets overflowing that we soon filled our small plastic pail. We went home and poured our find into some pots, then returned to the woods with two plastic pails.

At this point, Jacob was hooked. He sprinted from tree to tree checking how full the buckets were. Almost all were overflowing. He showed enthusiasm, and yes, even excitement over gathering so much sap. We brought home five pails of it.

How much maple syrup would we get? We did some calculations…


Concentration of maple sap to syrup is roughly 40 to 1 (if I start with 40 cups of sap, I’ll get one cup of maple syrup).

1 bucket = 2 gallons
We brought home 5 buckets = 10 gallons
At 16 cups per gallon = 160 cups sap
160 divided by 40 = 4 cups or 1 quart!

We don’t’ have the right equipment for collecting and boiling down sap into syrup. By the time we were done collecting sap, we had filled every pot in the house. I set four pots boiling on the kitchen stove in addition to the two on the wood-burning stove, and there was still more sap in our five-gallon water container we used for camping…

The house became a steam bath. Condensation covered every window, and by evening every wall. I understood why the cooking down was usually done outdoors.

We haven’t cooked down all the sap yet. (We had gathered some the day before, too.) But we decided to cook down our first batch of syrup. The syrup is ready when the temperature of the boiling liquid is 7.1 to 7.5 degrees F above boiling water, which we determined was 211.9 F this morning. Thus, when our candy thermometer read 219.0 F, we were done! Since Jacob is our most enthusiastic maple syrup lover, he was the one with the thermometer watching the pot.

So far, we got SIX cups of syrup! That was more than we expected. We hadn't realized we'd carried - and boiled - that much sap.

Can’t wait for the girls to make pancakes!


School for Us said...

That is SO neat! How I'd love to see (and do!) this in real life. I'm glad your son decided to join you. :-)

~*~The Family~*~ said...

wow, how yummy! Did you have syrup on your ceiling after the boiling?

The Reluctant Homeschooler said...

It felt like all the walls of the house were covered with syrup! But alas, it was just steam. We had the vent over the stove going while cooking down the sap, so that helped a bit.

Pam said...

How lucky are you?!? I would love to make my own syrup.

Contessa Kris said...

What an interesting project to do with the kids! I love it!

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)