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Here is How My Family Makes Our Traditional Maple Syrup

Updated: Mar 14

The Anishinaabeg have been making maple syrup - ZIISSBAAKDOKE for centuries during ZIISSBAAKDOKE GIIZAS or sugar moon in March. During this time, we are encouraged to balance our lives as we would our blood sugar levels. Aannii (hello), Bozhoo (welcome), my name is Corey Kinsella and I am the Technical Advisor of Physical Sciences and Traditional Lands for Cambium Indigenous Professional Services. Today, I am going to show you my families traditional recipe for creating the perfect batch of golden maple syrup.

I've been making maple syrup since I was a kid growing up in the Buckhorn area. For

me, it is a special time of the year when we come together as a family and kick off the spring season.

Making maple syrup is more of a tradition in my family. It is a time for us to shake off the winter blues and to get outside to enjoy the spring weather.

The maple syrup making process isn't a very complicated one but like most recipes, it takes time, patience and some love to create a perfect batch of maple syrup. When I was asked by one of my team members about how maple syrup is made, I jumped at the chance to explain how I go about making the perfect batch of maple syrup. Below is my families step by step process on how to create the perfect batch of golden brown maple syrup.

mason jars of maple syrup

Step 1: Find the Perfect Maple Tree Stand

The first step is to identify a maple stand that has enough trees to make the desired amount of maple syrup. Two full size maple trees will produce between a half and a full gallon of maple syrup.

To make 5 gallons of maple syrup, you will need to tap between 10 and 15 full grown sugar maple trees. You will want to make sure there is a stand of maple trees rather than one or two maple trees (if you plan on making more than a few jars of maple syrup). Personally, I enjoy giving out my maple syrup to friends and family (as presents) so I need a maple stand (or sugar bush) that has a multitude of full grown maple trees.

Maple tree stand for collecting maple sap
Choose a maple tree stand with enough maple trees to make the desired amount of maple syrup
Big maple tree ready for tapping
This old maple tree is perfect for collecting sap!

You will need to judge how much maple syrup you need compared to how many maple trees your have access to. If you tap 2 full grown maple trees they can potentially produce (on the low end), half gallon of maple syrup (which is roughly 64 ounces). This will yield (roughly) two 34 ounce mason jars of maple syrup.

Two mason jars filled with maply syrup

At the top end, two full grown maple tree will produce a full gallon of maple syrup (128 ounces) which will yield four, 34 ounces of maple syrup.

Four mason jars filled with maple syrup

You will need to estimate how much maple syrup you plan on making (Pro tip! Estimate how much you "need" and add a tad more...just in case) compared to how many maple trees you will need to tap.

Two maple trees and maple syrup yield potential

Alright, let's find out how big your maple trees need to be to optimize your sap collection!

Step 2: How Big Should A Sugar Maple Tree For Optimal Sap Collecting?

Measureing the diameter of a maple tree
A maple tree should be at least 8 inches in diameter to tap for maple sap

Ideally, you want a maple tree that is at least 8 inches in diameter. This type of maple tree will be nice and juicy with plenty of maple sap which can potentially produce between 10 and 20 gallons of maple sap which will yield a quarter gallon of maple syrup.

Pro tip! Try and find a maple tree that is not peppered with tap holes (especially fresh tap holes). Now that you have found your maple stand and identified the juiciest maple trees, it's time to tap!

Step 3: Tap The Sugar Maple Tree

The next step is to tap the tree (s). I love this part of the process! This is where we "get the goods". This is an exciting step because we find out how much maple sap a tree will yield. Kind of like playing bingo!

Now, there are a variety of methods that can be used to collect the maple sap. The first and easiest method is the collection pail method. This is the "no frills" method and is super easy to do. Punch a hole in the maple tree using a spout, attached a pail and you are ready to rock! If you don't have a hanger for your pail, hammer a nail into the tree just above the spout. Hang your pail from the nail and you are ready to start collecting that awesome maple sap! However, if you can, try and get a collection pail kit. Personally, I prefer to use a collection pail kit specifically for maple sap (it makes it so much easier). Sort of like a one stop shop (instead of buying separate items at your local hardware store).

The kit contains five, 2 gallon sap buckets, five lids and sap spouts. All you need is a drill with a 1/4 inch drill bit (or you can do this manually), and a hammer. The cost for a collection pail kit is about 50 bucks CAD (Canadian Tire). Considering the low cost, this method will allow you to collect A LOT of sap!

Collection pail kit
This is a spout and pail collection kit

Before you start, make sure you sanitize your equipment first. A quick wash will do the job.

The height of your spout should be about 4 feet off the ground, facing south. Don't know where south is? Look at the branches of the tree. If all the branches are bunched on one side, that's where south is. Branches grow in abundance where there is a lot sunlight (facing south). Make sure there your tap hole is at least 5 inches away from previous taps. I suggest you use a 1/4 inch drill bit. That will create a hole that will allow most spouts to fit into. This is important - Angle your drill slightly upwards! This will make sure gravity does it's job and creates a nice downward flow so the maple sap automatically drips into the pail. You may have to use a "back and forth" method to ensure your hole is big enough for your spout (see me using the drill in the video below)

Pro tip! When you are drilling into the tree, examine the wood shavings to see if your tap spot is a good one. Light coloured shavings indicates a good spot while dark brown shaving can indicate a poor spot. If you find dark coloured shaving, do yourself a favour and find another drill spot!).

Drilling into a maple tree

Next, use a hammer and lightly tap the spout into the hole so that is nice and secure.

Tapping a spout into a maple tree
After drilling your hole, lightly tap the spout into the hole with a rubber mallet

Next, attach the bucket to the spout hanger, cover and you are good to go! I like these buckets because they are very light coloured which allows me to see how full the buckets are at a distance.

The sap collection pail kits can be purchased a Home Hardware, Walmart, Canadian

Tire, Home Depot and most other hardware stores (for about 50 bucks CAD).

You can also do this manually without a sap collection kit. This method requires the following equipment:

- A drill with a quarter inch bit

- A hammer (rubber mallet if possible)

- A spout (metal or plastic)

- A nail or hanger (to hold the pail)

- A large (food safe) bucket (2 gallon capacity if possible)

- A lid for the bucket

The second method uses a spout and line.

Spout and line method for collecting maple sap
The spout and line maple sap collection method

This method requires a drill, spout, line (to collect the sap), pail and a cover. Drill a (slightly) upwards hole using a 1/4" drill bit into the tree facing south. Lightly hammer the spout which is connected to the line) into tree. Place the end of line into the bucket and cover.

This is a more structured process. In terms of cost you're looking at 15 bucks for the spouts, 30 bucks for the lines, and 10 bucks for a 3 gallon pail. For about a hundred bucks you can get a half decent spout and line operation going for collecting maple sap.

Step 4: Collecting the Maple Sap

Once you've collected the sap (from your maple trees), pour your sap collection buckets into your sap storage buckets (I prefer 5 gallon buckets). Make sure your storage buckets re-sanitized. Place a cheesecloth over the top of your storage buckets and pour your sap into the storage buckets. The cheesecloth will help filter out any debris and dirt.

Once all your sap has been added to the collection buckets, cover the lids and store your sap until you are ready for processing (boil). Ideally, you want to process your sap with 6 to 7 days of collection (and stored in a cool place).

Step 5: Boiling the Sap!

I love this step - Boiling the sap!

This is where maple syrup is made. Personally, I perform two boils. My first boil is a bulk boil that reduces the sap from a clear colour to a brownish hue. Once my sap turns to a brownish hue, I prepare for my second boil.

I generally do my first boil outdoors and either use an evaporator (which uses a propane fuel source) or a cast iron stove to boil my sap. You can also make a fire pit and place a grilling rack over the fire to boil your sap. Depends on what kind of equipment you have on hand.

Boiling maple sap
Boiing maple sap outdoors using an evaporator

Boiling sap creates A LOT of steam which is why I recommend you do this outdoors. I love to hang out with family or friends and make a day out of it.

Now, you will want to make sure that the heat is even. If it's too hot the sap will boil over. If it is too low, the sap won't boil. What you're looking for is steady and even boiling bubbles. You will have to eyeball this a bit and adjust your heat source accordingly.

Pro Tip* You may notice a foam developing over the top of your sap as you boil. Use a wooden spoon (or a skimming spoon) to shave off the foam.

It will take roughly 4 to 5 hours to boil 5 gallons of sap. 5 gallons of maple sap will boil down to about 20 ounces of maple syrup (for the first and second boil).

Your first boil will be outdoors. This is usually an all day event so make sure you set aside at least 5 hours for your boil.

Fill your boiling pot 3/4 of the way and start your boil. As the sap evaporates, keep adding more sap to the boil until the sap starts to turn golden brown (ish).

The Second Boil

Once your sap is ready for the second boil (after the sap has turned to a brownish colour), you will filter the sap and prepare (for the second boil). Your second boil can be performed indoors (for smaller batches).

I suggest you filter your sap (to get rid of any debris) and pour into an iron (5 quart) stove pot. Use a cheesecloth to filter your maple sap.

I suggest you use a digital thermometer to measure the heat of the sap (Pro tip* make sure the thermometer bulb is not touching the bottom of the pot). Set your heat to medium to get

the sap boiling.

Boil the sap until it reaches a temperature of 219 degrees. Once that temperature is reached continue boiling for another minute. Let your syrup cool until the temperature reaches 180 degrees (F).

After it reaches this temperature, filter once more to get rid of any debris or remove "candy sugar". Use a new filter for each boil.

Boiling maple sap to maple syrup
For your second boil, make sure your sap reaches 219 degrees in order for it to turn into maple syrup. I recommend doing your second boil indoors and use a thermometer.

Now, what if you don't have a digital thermometer? Alternatively, you can use a spoon to measure the syrup consistency. Dip the spoon into the syrup. If the syrup comes off in drops, it's not ready. If the syrup comes off in a stream, it's ready to go.

I recommend you use food grade filters to filter your syrup but if worse comes to worse, you can use coffee filters for smaller batches. You will want to filter into a clean container (using a new filter for each new batch).

Finally, prepare your bottles for the maple syrup. Make sure the bottles are clean with seal-able caps. Any type of glass jar or bottle will do. I personally prefer 34 ounce mason jars. If I plan on giving my maple syrup away as gifts, I will label them with a nice graphic on them! It adds a nice touch.

Finally, pour your maple syrup into the mason jars and there you go...Freshly made maple syrup! There you have it, my step by step process on how to make maple syrup!

Mason jars of maple syrup
The finished product! How maple syrup is made.

The most important piece of advice I can give to anyone who wants to make maple syrup is to have fun!

Here is a quick step by step summary of my maple syrup creation process:

Step 1: Find a maple stand. Find enough maple trees to make the desired amount of maple syrup;

Step 2: Identify maple trees within the maple stand that are big enough to tap for maple sap;

Step 3: Tap the maple tree for sap using the collection pail method or the spout and line method;

Step 4: Collect the maple sap. Using either the collection pail method or the spout and line method, collect the desired amount of maple sap to make pure maple syrup;

Step 5: Making the maple syrup. Boil number one will reduce the sap into a brownish colour. The second boil will reduce the brown maple sap into pure maple syrup.

I hope you enjoyed this article on how I make maple syrup If you enjoyed this article, check out my other articles on my bio page at: Corey Kinsella CIPS.

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