From late February through April many people head out to maple syrup festivals while others enjoy heading into the bush and tapping trees. This is a favorite past time that has caught on in many areas and in some cases it is a family tradition.
There are many things that can be made from the sap. Of course we think of maple syrup; there is a long list of foods that pair well with maple syrup on or mixed in them. Some other yummy things that can be made from maple sap include sugar, candies, cream, smoothies, popsicles, butter, taffy/toffee, and liqueur.
You might think that because maple syrup is so sweet it’s not healthy, but that’s not true! If it’s a pure maple syrup it is a good choice for anyone who is careful with their sugar intake – including diabetics – because it only rates a 54 on the glycemic index while honey rates at 57 and sugar at 58. Maple syrup also contains manganese and zinc which are great for the immune system and the heart. Some other nutrients in maple syrup are riboflavin, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Of course, if you just got it out of the tree in your backyard there are no artificial preservatives, flavoring, or coloring!
Where To Find Maple Sap
You need to know what a sugar maple tree looks like. Supposedly the sap from the box elder can also be used. If you are like most people you haven’t a clue how to tell the difference between a sugar maple and a Norway maple – and that’s ok. Collect sap from any maple tree (or birch) and use the sap.
Maple syrup producers are well aware that the amount of sap (and ultimately the syrup) that trees provide varies year-to-year. Sap flow and syrup production have generally been linked to variations in daytime and nighttime temperatures; when the nights are below freezing and the days are above freezing it’s time to go out and collect the sap.
There is new research out that indicates that a key variable in production is the sugar content of the sap. According to a news release from the Harvard Forest, mast seeding is when plants and flowers fruit abundantly; which tends to occur every two to five years. The study showed that syrup production decreased following mast seeding events in Vermont in 2000, 2006, and 2011. Past studies looking at weather and correlations between various climate conditions and ‘sap sugar’ did not prove to be very successful.
Do you like to learn about the history of things? Here’s a book for you! Maple Sugar: From Sap to Syrup: The History, Lore, and How-To Behind This Sweet Treat
What To Do With Maple Sap
Boiling the sap until it becomes syrup is a long process that takes a willingness to be outside in the early spring months. There is a wealth of information at Tap My Trees.com that tells you exactly what needs to be done. If you prefer to have it written out in a book here is a A Complete How-To Guide for Backyard Sugaring’.
Drinking just the sap is a nutritious annual treat and it stores in the fridge for at least two weeks (under optimum conditions). You can use sap in smoothies. Get creative by using the sap to make popsicles for the summer! Add some blended fresh fruits to the sap and freeze in popsicle trays. Or, use ice cube trays and insert half a popsicle stick into each square as they are freezing. Store frozen treats in an airtight container in the freezer so they can be enjoyed in the summer months. You’ll be the most sought after person in the neighborhood!
How to Tap a Tree
There are plenty of videos on YouTube that shows you how to tap a tree; it is a very simple process. Experts tend to agree that tapping a tree less than 10” in diameter is not advisable because you can cause damage to that tree. If a tree exceeds 24” in diameter then you can have two buckets on that tree.
You will need:
• Metal tree spile
• Brace with a 3/8″ bit
• Wire mesh
- Drill the tap hole. The hole should be roughly 3 feet off the ground and positioned on the sunniest side of the tree. Position the bit where you would like to drill the hole and apply a bit of pressure to keep it in place. Then turn the handle of the brace and drill a hole that slants upward slightly. The hole should be 1.5 to 2 inches deep.
- Remove the brace. Then push the bit in and out of the hole a few times to remove wood from the hole.
- Insert the spile into the hole with the lip on the bottom. Use a hammer to gently tap the spile so that it sits securely in the hole.
- Hang the bucket. Cover the bucket with thin wire mesh to keep out bugs and debris. Then cover with lid.
The temperature will ultimately determine how much sap will flow. Ideally the optimum flow happens when the nights are at the freezing mark or colder and the days are warm.
Need some pancakes to go with your syrup? Here’s a recipe for Easy Peasy Pumpkin Pancakes – and there’s a gluten free option.
So there you have it – maple sap doesn’t always have to be used for syrup when you have some creativity and the desire to get tapping!
Have you ever tapped for maple syrup?
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