Making Maple Syrup Part 2: Boiling Sap

By Julie Sews - 5:11:00 PM

When Do You Boil Your Sap?
We finally have been able to boil our sap.  This year has been unusual in MN.  We had a big snowstorm a couple of weeks ago and temps below 30s for like a week, so no sap flowed and it was too cold and snowy to boil sap (we had over a foot of snow).  Last year we had an early spring and no rain, so we actually had a burn restriction in the beginning of April.  In hindsight now, I think we started to late again this year.  It's in the 60's this week end our 15 gallons of sap remaining are sure to go bad soon.  Crazy how fast it goes from 20 degrees for a high to 60 in only a couple of weeks here.  In hindsight I would have started at least a week earlier then I did, if not 2 weeks.  I guess I'll just have to get use to boiling sap when there is still snow on the ground. 

How Much Sap do You Need?
Depending on the sugar content of the sap, it takes about 40-45 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of finished syrup. Sap becomes a finished product when it is 66-67 percent sugar content at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water.  Concentrations below 66 percent can sour over time. Sap has 2% sugar content typically.  We have our 30 some gallon of sap full and more is sure to follow this week so we will be boiling sap for a while here on the homestead!  This is our first time boiling sap and it turned out pretty well.

How Did We Boil Our Sap?
I found the amount of time I can dedicate to boiling sap and still be fun with the methods we used to be 2 weekends of boiling outside and a week inside (on the stove) for me.  I would say that I used roughly 15 gallons of sap and produced 2 pints of sap.  In order to maximize your time while boiling sap outside we also boiled inside on the stove.  We used a 6 Qt pot, 3 Qt pot, and a small pot.  Make sure to properly ventilate your house if you are boiling sap inside (we had all windows open and fans going). 

What You Need to Boil Outside?
straining the sap before boiling
  • We purchased a tripod camping cook thing from Menards for $15 to use over our fire pit we already had
  • We bought an aluminum foil roaster at the dollar store because it was cheap and has a large surface area to evaporate (it holds about 1/2 gallon at a time safely without fear of boiling over).
  • We used a 5 gallon bucket with a clean old t-shirt (a rubber band large enough to fit around the top of the bucket would have been nice), to strain the sap
  • A clean milk jug with the top cut out (as pictured) for scooping sap out of the bucket into the pan
  • lots of big dry logs and branches (remember you will need to have the fire going foe a long time! We ran out of juice)  if you don't have enough wood charcoal will do too.
  • matches or a lighter, paper, and twigs to start the fire
  • the entire day to chill by the fire (it took us 5 hrs I figure to boil 4 gallons to an 1/2 gallon) 
  • a mug, measuring cup, or plastic cup for scooping smaller amounts of sap
  • a digital or candy thermometer
Our Milk Jug scoop for sap
  • Keep at least 1.5 inches of liquid in the pan at all times to avoid scorching, and you can add a little bit of oil, milk, or butter if it starts to boil over
  • Bring a book, your laptop, and a comfy chair it's going to be awhile.  You could also throw a sap burning party and have smores and hotdogs over the fire, or spend the time cleaning up your yard, raking leaves and picking up branches which you can use in the fire.
  • Plan to spend at least a few days boiling sap (start as early as you can in the day) and boil it as soon as possible after collecting it, once the temperature starts to pick up your sap can go bad before you have a chance to boil it.
Sap after boiling for 5 hrs: 4 gallons to about 1 gallon

Boiling the Sap Outside
Start your fire and just keep it going and keep adding sap to your existing pot.  Make sure to keep it about 1/2 way full and you'll be fine.  If it starts to boil over you should be able to add oil or butter to stop this.

We spent 5 hrs boiling and still not even close to being maple syrup yet, but it's a start and it was nice to be outside all day after being all cooped up inside all season. It was a great way to encourage me to do spring clean up in our yard. 

Our Inside Sap Boiling Set Up
Boiling Inside:  The 3 Pan Process

1.  Start with a 6 qt stockpot

We put the remaining boiled down sap from boiling outside into a 6 qt stock pot and it fit perfectly 
As stated before boiling  inside is fine and necessary as long as you make sure to properly vent.  We turned on our fans and had all the windows open.  If you start to see condensation on the windows you need to vent more.  Try to make sure the temp of the sap is close to 200 degrees (it will evaporate the most without having to watch to closely to ensure not boiling over) but not over 210 degrees. Do not let it boil, basically you want it just under the boiling point.
2.  Transfer from the 6 qt to a 3 qt pan
Once the sap has boiled down half way transfer it into a 3 qt pan, and you can start a new batch of Sap in the 6 Qt stock pot if you want.
3.  Transfer from the 3 qt to a Smaller Pan
2 hrs of boiling and it's almost there!  It has sediment on the bottom of the pan I am told this is normal.  It's down to about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sweet tasting amber colored liquid at 219 degrees (at about 218 degrees it is syrup) and sticks to the back of a spoon, tastes like syrup (oh sooooo good) it must be syrup!  I turned off the stove because if it reaches any higher of a temp it would turn to candy, and will let it cool.

Reflections: What We Plan To Do Differently Next Year 
  • We plan to start boiling much earlier next season, probably mid-March
  • We will gather as much wood as possible and store it in our garage maybe buy a bag of charcoal too (we ran out of wood)
  • Starting in March we will start saving milk jugs in order to fill with sap and freeze in case the temperatures start to rise before we are done boiling (we will lose 1/2 our sap we collected because we started boiling to late and didn't have a plan to freeze any.)
  • Boil on the stove inside and outside.  Let's face it we live busy lives and it takes a long time to boil, might as well make the most of what you have and be as productive as you can in the time you have allocated to boiling sap.
  • Start boiling sap outside early in the mourning (I'm not an early bird) I started at 12-1 pm most days, I would have prefered to have spent longer fewer days boiling.  Plus starting the fire is always the most work.
  • Separate our sap from our sugar maple and other maples, and use the sugar maple sap first since it has a higher concentration of sap.   That way if we can't use all of our sap again at least we will not throw out our sugar sap! 
We got 4 pints out of about 15 gallons of sap.  We collected about 30 gallons of sap but had to throw out half as we started boiling to late and the sap most likely would go bad.

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Click Here to read Making Maple Syrup Part 1: Tapping a Tree

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