Making delicious maple syrup is not strictly a New England endeavor. Pennsylvanians have been doing it for hundreds of years. In fact, you can make your own syrup using the maple trees located right in your own backyard!
All you need to make your own maple syrup is the right tools, a bit of knowledge about maple trees, a brief lesson on how to tap the trees and collect the sap, and how to turn that sap into a tasty treat!
Keep reading to learn more about the joys of maple sugaring in Pennsylvania!
How To Collect Maple Syrup In Your Backyard
Before you tap your first tree to collect the sap used to make maple syrup, you’ll need to assemble the necessary tools.
Here’s what you’ll need to successfully tap a maple tree:
- A portable drill with a clean, sharp 5/16” bit
- Spouts for the tap holes (choose from metal spouts, plastic spouts with plastic tubing or homemade spouts using hollowed out pieces of sumac)
- Storage containers to collect the sap (choose from metal or plastic buckets or empty, clean gallon milk jugs)
If your buckets should have a small hole a few inches below the lip so it can hang on the spout to collect the running sap. And be sure to add a shield of covers over your bucket or container to prevent rainwater, leaves, dirt or debris from contaminating your sap.
Now that you have everything you need to tap and collect maple sap, there are few things you need to know before you actually tap your first tree:
- Locate any native maple tree with a trunk diameter that is great than 11”
- For ease of collecting sap, most taps are located between two and four feet above the ground
- Avoid previous tap holes by a few inches to minimize tree wounds
- Trees with a trunk diameter greater than 11” can support one tap; trees with a trunk diameter between 18” and 24” can support two taps; trees with a trunk diameter greater than 24” can support three taps
- The best time to tap a tree is when the daily temperature range from 40°F- 50°F with overnight lows of about 20s (Typically between February and early April)
- During the month-long season, a healthy maple tree can produce approximately 10 gallons of sap or 1 quart of maple syrup
- Sugaring season ends when the overnight temperatures no longer dip below freezing temperatures
Ok, now you’re ready to tap your first tree. Gather all of your necessary tools, identify the trees you wish to tap (make sure the diameters are greater than 11”), and determine the number of taps you’ll need. Then perform the following steps:
- Insert the bit of the cordless drill into the trunk and slightly angle it upward
- Drill a hole approximately 2” to 3” deep and clear out any dust or debris
- Insert the spout and gently tap it into the tree with a rubber mallet
- Attach the container to the hook on the spout or place the container at the base of the tree and secure it using heavy blocks of wood or bricks
- Be sure to cover your container
- Empty your container at least once a day (especially if the temperatures are warmer than usual)
When you go to empty your container for the first time do not be surprised to find that it is filled with water. The sap that comes out of the is mostly water which contains only 2%-3% sugar. To produce the syrup, you’ll need to boil off the water.
How to Make Maple Syrup
Now that you’ve collected multiple gallons of raw sap, it’s time to boil and refine it to make maple syrup!
You’ll need a shallow, aluminum baking pan, a candy thermometer, a small mesh strainer with handle, a small funnel, paper towels, and several empty jars to store the finished product.
To boil and refine your sap:
- Place and secure the shallow pan over an outside fire or grill
- Fill the pan with the raw sap
- Heat the raw until boiling to evaporate the water
- As the water evaporates, add more raw sap to the pan
- When all of the water has evaporated, the remaining sugar becomes thick and dark
- Relocate the remaining sugar to a large pot to finish the process on the kitchen stovetop
- Using a candy thermometer, determine if the sap is finished boiling. It should be about 212°F
- Ladle the sap into a paper towel-lined mesh strainer to remove any sediment
- Add the filtered contents to an empty pitcher
- While the syrup is still hot, empty it into the empty jars using a funnel
- Cap the jars tightly, store them on their sides to create a better seal, and store them in a cool, dry place
- Once a jar is opened, store it in a refrigerator to prevent the syrup from spoiling
Maple Festivals in PA
If you enjoy backyard maple sugaring, you’ll be happy to know that Pennsylvania hosts multiple maple festivals each year!
Some of PA’s most popular maple festivals include:
And if you want to make backyard maple sugaring a regular hobby, be sure to visit the Northwest Pennsylvania Maple Association to learn more about this fun (and delicious) endeavor!
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