What we learned about making maple syrup

making maple syrup at home on simplebites.net

Written by Danny.

Every year it seems like we get one step closer to being a modern version of the little house in the big woods. Our first spring here we constructed a compost pile and fire pit, and foraged for wild ramps from the woods.  The next year was chickens (semi-failed attempt). Last year it was raised beds, rain barrels and chickens (successfully).

This year, we tapped the maple trees, and it is the sweetest thing going. Although campfires and homemade marshmallows are hard to beat, I think that the kids are infinitely more excited about making maple syrup. Maybe a little too much so.

Let’s just say that I’m glad they had the sweet/delicious/sticky/awesome syrup AFTER they wielded the power drill and hammer.

Maple syrup in my backyard

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

According to my friend Yannick, who recently bought the “Maple Grove of the Angels” (Erablière des Anges), you want to drill your tree on a slight upward slant – 17 degrees is apparently optimal.  This will allow the sap to drip down via gravity, but is also not too steep, as you will be hanging a 1.25 gallon bucket from it.

Unlike my experience with a protractor when building my first gingerbread house with Aimee, I let Noah do most of the work and turned a blind eye to the inaccuracies in the angle.  Mateo drilled one too.

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

I had only seen metal taps in the past, but I guess that they make nearly everything out of plastic these days (food-grade plastic, of course).  The only problem with the plastic was that it was a little bit bouncy, and both Noah and Mateo nearly took the wrong end of the hammer in their face.

Also, the tree started GUSHING sap right away, and when we hit it with the hammer, it would splash into our eyes.  Yet another reason to wear safety goggles when using a hammer, I guess.

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

The sap is sweetish straight out of the tree, as is clearly evidenced in the photo of Mateo above, and that of Clara below.  If it weren’t for the opportunity to eat maple taffy (or “tire” here in Quebec), the boys would still be attached to the tree.  Literally.

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

We forcibly weaned Clara from this tree. She was making all her favorite “happy eating sounds” and hand signals for more.  The poor thing had the cutest twinkle in her eye, and the saddest pout when we took her away.

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

We’ve been to our uncle’s backyard sugarbush (over 200 buckets, I think) and can’t believe that it has taken us 3 years to tap some of the trees on our yard, but we finally did it.  As Quebec produces some ridiculous statistic like over 70% of the world’s maple syrup production, I guess it was a matter of time before we tried it.

I asked for buckets and taps at many hardware stores, but they all looked at me strangely, and told me there was surely some “out in the country”. Thankfully, I was able to borrow a few that Yannick had “laying around” at his organic sugarbush. (He specializes in derivative organic maple products like candies and stuff, but also has lots of liquid gold on hand year-round).

I also called or texted him about, oh, 30-40 times for various reasons, like to ensure that the trees we were tapping were big enough (9-inch diameter minimum) and which side to tap (facing sun), and although he was probably crazy busy, he patiently and passionately answered each of my questions.

hot cocoa in the snow

It didn’t really make sense to have a snack of hot cocoa when we were drinking sugar straight from a tree, but the boy’s didn’t complain at all (Okay, maybe they complained a little more than usual later on, when the sugar rush died off.)

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

For some reason, we have a LOT of photos of our back yard, so were able to identify which trees were maples, and didn’t end up tapping a birch tree, the weeping willow, or a telephone pole.

How to make maple syrup on simplebites.net

We’ve been collecting our sap since this Sunday, and have filled 3 of these so far.  It reduces down 40-t0-1 on high heat on our stove burner (kitchen hood on full speed to prevent our ceilings from becoming sticky with the steam), so each 5-Gallon bucket will yield just about a pint of pure organic maple syrup.

I’ve managed to borrow one of those outdoor propane burners that you typically see at corn boils from a coworker, and we’ll do our next batch outside. Time to step up production! Aimee, of course, will tell you what we made with the syrup this Friday.  Tune in then!

And yes, I’m thinking about finding and tapping a spruce tree for beermaking – but that may be a few years from now.

We’re only 3 days in and still exploring, but if you have any questions about what we did, I’ll guarantee an answer in the comments.

About Danny

Danny Bourque is a mechanical engineer who is known at both home and work as either “the geek” or “the numbers guy”. He is very methodical and genuinely loves to analyze almost anything that piques his interest – including food.

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Comments

  1. I don’t live in a region where we can tap the tree in our backyard, and I so enjoyed experiencing this vicariously on instagram! Love this recap.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy’s last post: What I’m Really Paying for When I Pay $22 for Lipstick

  2. Hi Danny,

    You are better then us… it take us 8 years in the wood to tap our maple water from the tree (yes I’m shy about it)

    I found the best place to buy few bucket and tap is the “quincaillerie” called “Co-op” or “Unimat”. We have some of them “in the country” and maybe not so far from your place, I’m in St-Lin and we have it in the “village”. For people close to Montreal, this is possible also to go at “Dominion and Grimm”, the grossist where Co-op/Unimat get teir product to collecte and process maple water into syrup and other delicious. candy. Dominion and Grimm is open to public, so this is not a problem to go there.
    manon’s last post: Si vous savez faire du yogourt, pourquoi ne pas essayer le fromage cottage?

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Bonjour Manon!
      Thanks for the references. I’ve looked them up, and although they’re a bit too far to visit just for a bucket or two, it is worth making a short detour if I’d be in the neighbourhood.

      • Your welcome!

        Sure this is a detour and not worth it this year, season is at the end. But if you plan to do it an other year, unimat/co-op start having that kind of supply at the end of january, begining of february.

        I wanted to let people know where to go. See, here we have a Unimat and a Rona… Rona have nothing to tap maple. I didn’t look at home hardware as this is too far for me, but I know some have that kind of supply.

        PS: the grossist at Montreal (Dominion and Grimm) have also alot of glass bottle and container (plastic, glass, metal) that we don’t found often. This is a place I like to buy bottle to do homemade gift set or basket.

  3. This sounds so incredible! We have a friend in the town that we’re about to move to who taps syrup each year, so I look forward to hopefully working with him next year. Thanks for sharing some of the experience!
    Amy P’s last post: 10 Months: The Particular Joy of Mom Friends

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Amy P,
      We first got excited about it when helping my uncle, and I’m sure you’ll get the bug when you help your friend.

  4. I have always wanted to do this in my yard, especially as I’m currently seeing the sap run down the side of my maple trees. How many trees did you tap in your yard?
    I only have 5 in our city plot, and don’t want to tap them it it wouldn’t be enough/worth the time. Yet at the same time you have to start somewhere… right?

    • Sarah – so far we have tapped one cluster of trees – just the four buckets you see pictured!! I’m astounded that we’ve gotten so much sap, but happy about it. I’d say you could definitely start with 5 trees and do very well. Get cracking! ;)

  5. It’s nice to see you having fun making maple syrup. My parents owned a farm where we tapped maple trees every spring. Last year, they sold the farm to move to a smaller house. So, this year we’ll have to buy some syrup.
    Mark’s last post: Carmine

  6. Aimee,
    Great photos – yes our kids also have to sample each tree and tell us which are the sweetest – it’s part of the tradition!
    A couple hints – to reduce boiling time, take out the ice as your collection buckets freeze over. The water freezes first so the sugary stuff is concentrated. It makes the boiling take so much less time.
    Also – some day you may want to try a wood fire outside for boiling. There is nothing like the smoky flavor of maple syrup made this way.
    Finally, I learned that the Japanese drink sap as a cleansing spring treatment. We enjoy it as lemonade and use it for tea water. It’s a lovely way to get extra nutrients with a slight mapley taste!
    From an old NH maple syrup song “Sweetest joys indeed we sugar makers know!”
    Sarah @ Fit Family Together’s last post: Hard Work

    • Yes! I’m making tea with the sap water and will be writing more about it on Friday.
      Danny’s uncle boils his sap over a massive wood stove; the flavour IS unsurpassed. We might try that this weekend, when we can be around to babysit the fire.

  7. Making your own maple syrup sounds like loads of fun!
    Kevin @ Closet Cooking’s last post: Bacon Guacamole Deviled Eggs

  8. This is seriously one of the coolest things, ever. How awesome that you can make maple syrup!!! I can’t even fathom how much fun this would be to do with kids and the expression on their faces. I love that Clara had to be weened off, haha
    Julie @ Table for Two’s last post: Tiramisu

  9. How cool is this?! I love the photos of the kids sucking the sap from the tree.
    Cookin Canuck’s last post: No-Bake Carrot Cake Granola Bites Recipe {Low Sugar & Gluten-Free}

  10. I’ve yet to have the opportunity to try it fresh from the source, I’ll have to put that on my bucket list. It’s not like I’d have to go far to find a place, already living in the north! I always adore your posts featuring photos of your kids as they’re all so adorable. I especially love the picture and story of Clara – so sweet!
    Rachel @ Baked by Rachel’s last post: Spicy Barbecue Chicken Salad

    • Danny Bourque says:

      At the very least, you should go to a sugar shack. Most have some kind of demo area in the back where you can see how it is done and try the “tire”.

  11. I love this! My family in northern Michigan has made maple syrup for as long as I can remember, and it was such a treat to go visit grandma and grandpa on spring break and help collect the sap. We used to love hanging out in the “sugar shack” where the sap was boiled down into syrup, it was like a contact sugar high. Even now that I live on the east coast, I still get my quart or two yearly from back home. Nothing like it!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Our uncle does it, and it was exciting doing it with him, but it was infinitely more exciting when it’s your own trees.

  12. How cool!
    Maria’s last post: Avocado Egg Salad

  13. Our kids thought this was incredibly cool, and were just a little jealous of their northern cousins(not to mention all the SNOW!). This was a great post Danny; the technical details very interesting. Great shots of the boys at work. Loved it all!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Thanks Haidi.
      I think I actually rolled my eyes when my friend told me that I should drill at 17 degrees. But then he said to shrug your shoulders, touch drilltip to tree, and then relax your shoulders, and it should be about right. That’s actually what we did.
      Miss the cousins here too!

  14. This is really freaking cool. I can’t wait to show my kids these pictures of “where syrup comes from”!

    • Oh, this is a great idea! We don’t have our own trees, but I bet my kids would love seeing the pictures… though they might start trying to lick sap off other trees around town!

  15. We learned about tapping a maple tree a couple weeks ago at our local nature center and have been plotting about how we could do this at home! It looks wonderful and so much fun. Thanks for sharing your story and I can’t wait to read about how you used all this yummy goodness!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      It is lots of fun and pretty easy. The hardest part is finding the tap and the bucket. I don’t know if there is a DIY solution for that. We’ll definitely be reusing our taps, so hopefully they don’t break coming out of the tree.

  16. I’ve read that book to my kids several times and every time, I always wish there was a way to try harvesting maple syrup.
    Sommer@ASpicyPerspective’s last post: How to Plan a Stress-Free Dinner Party

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Key ingredient is the maple trees… If you don’t live near some large maples, then you’re out of luck!

  17. Fresh maple syrup is one of the few things that I miss about living in the north. I have lots of fond memories visiting a sugar bush in Wisconsin as a child. We didn’t do taffy, but instead they served us freshly boiled syrup over ice cream. Yum.
    Megan’s last post: Friendship is 300 Cupcakes

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Megan,
      One of the local ice cream shops (Bilboquet) has maple taffy ice cream. Only available for a month or so, and twice the price.
      But worth it to get those chunks (gobs, really) of maple in there.

  18. This is amazing, Aimee. Wow. I love the picture of your daughter right up on the tree having some straight-away.
    naomi’s last post: Coconut Mango Cake

  19. Oh how I would LOVE to do this someday!! Can I join u sometime??

  20. you had me at “forcibly weaned”–that’s hilarious!
    kirsten@FarmFreshFeasts’s last post: (Leftover Ham Week) Ham and Broccoli Stem Quesadillas (Quick Take)

  21. Oh my goodness! I just posted a maple syrup salmon recipe on my blog (www.funnytummycafe.com) and while I was pouring 1/2 cup of real (and really expensive) maple syrup into the marinade, I was thinking how nice it would be if we could tap our own. I’m seriously going to go hunt down some maple trees out here in Wisconsin and see if I can’t get a spout tapped in there!
    ps that photo of Clara is the CUTEST pic EVER!!!
    Michelle Jones’s last post: Bacon and Cream Cheese Deviled Eggs … aka The BEST Deviled Eggs I’ve EVER Had

  22. How amazing! We’re not too far off from each other geographically, and you’re making me want to try this next year! Get ready for the 30-40 emails that will come your way, Danny and Aimee! Kidding ;-)
    Can’t wait to see what you made!
    Marian (Sweetopia)’s last post: Kopykake Projector Giveaway! {International – Worldwide!}

  23. That photo of Clara with her mouth on the spigot is hilarious! What a great shot.

  24. I just love that you made your own maple syrup. I so enjoy living vicariously through you in your homesteading adventures!
    Tracy’s last post: Easter Nests

  25. You made your own maple syrups?!? That is cool! I love all you pictures of you kids. They ar so cute!

  26. We visited a Maple Farm in Naples, NY on St Patrick’s Day & they mentioned that you can also tap Birch trees and Walnut! The timing is different (birch is later, not sure about walnut). Maybe you can try the birch trees next! :)

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Super awesome idea. We don’t have walnut, but our neighbour has a little grove of birch trees. I’ll have to talk to him once our Maple dries up.

  27. Oh, Danny – if you ever do manage the spruce beer you promised in this post, I’m driving up to Canada to help you ASAP!
    Casey@Good. Food. Stories.’s last post: The Bar Cart: The Campbell Creamsicle

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Sadly, I don’t think we have any spruce trees. Aaagh! Can you tap cedar? I’m all for experimenting.

  28. OOOO! We have a maple farm just down the road from us and I love visiting to watch all the goings on of making maple syrup! I can’t imagine the patients it takes to make yourself, the whole 40-1 ratio seems so daunting! What sweet results though!
    stephchows’s last post: Farro Perlato

  29. Oh my goodness, the kids are so adorable! This is such a fun thing to do as a family :)

  30. This is my dream! My grandfather used to make his own maple syrup. I hope to carry on the tradition at some point. There are no maple trees where we live now (SK), but we have some property in Ontario that would work, if we could ever get there this time of year!
    Julia’s last post: Kalonji Seed Bread: Exploring Spices of the World

  31. Oh I am so incredibly jealous right now. Really, really jealous. We could have a cactus party here and see what we could extract from a prickly pear, but somehow I just don’t think it would be nearly as magical as these pictures make your Maple Syrup adventure look. Wow! So jealous.
    Allison’s last post: Chicken Enchilada Dip

  32. joshua wimbush says:

    Really exciting A & D !! – You can tap birch trees too if you live in the west – I think the ratio is more like 100:1 though. Will put my order in later for syrop !

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Josh,
      Our neighbour has a whack of birch in his back yard. I’m going to talk to him this weekend.
      We don’t ship, so you’d have to come over for your order! =)

  33. Hi,
    I tapped three maple trees in my back yard. It takes very long time before I could get just half cup of maple. It is dame expensive hobby if we are doing in the house. But the weather outside is dame cold so having fire wood is not possible until tomorrow.
    I enjoyed reading everybody emails at your website.
    Happy Easter to you all.
    almas

  34. I love this! I apologize if you’ve covered this, but did you link to your source for the taps and buckets? And when is it too late to tap your trees (like is now too late? I’m in Ontario and it’s still freezing here today). How do you know that your maples are big enough to tap? And, um, when do you stop tapping. Maybe I should just buy a book?

    • Danny Bourque says:

      I got them from a friend, but people in the comments have suggested that “coops” out in the country have these available on a seasonal basis.
      I think we were about 3 weeks late if we wanted to maximize, but I think that it flows any time that you have freezing nights and above freezing days. We haven’t collected much sap since the first little bit, but the weather has either been too warm or too cold.

  35. Perhaps a silly question, but can you tap any type of maple tree or a cettain kind?
    And great pics of the kids. They fall in the “sooooo cute” category!

    • Danny Bourque says:

      Hi Stephanie,
      From what I’ve gathered, you can tap pretty much any maple. Sugar Maples are what industry uses, but I think ours is a Silver Maple. We have a Black Maple in the front yard, and if we had a few more buckets, we would be tapping in to that one as well for a taste comparison!
      Also, people above have suggested tapping Birch trees, and I think it is the same process if I want to make spruce beer, but I haven’t looked into that yet.
      Thanks for reading!

      • Do you have any resources to help to identify the differents trees? And I did take a mental note on the spruce tree for beer….. I look to see if I have some of those at home! :)

        • Danny Bourque says:

          If there’s an app for typography identification, there must be an app for tree identification too! If not, there’s a market waiting for a product.
          Although most of the larger trees around home are maples, we have a “flora and fauna” of Quebec book that I brought just to double check the bark. And I’ll be more keen this summer to check the leaves too.

  36. I’ve been a reader for awhile, but haven’t commented. Danny, you’ve elicited the first laugh…”didn’t end up tapping a birch tree, the weeping willow, or a telephone pole.” hahaha

  37. This is wonderful! I really want to try this and I have some silly questions if you don’t mind answering. Do I wait to boil after saving all the buckets of sap and how long does sap stay good for?
    Or, do I boil after each bucket is full and add the newly boiled down maple syrup to the same jar as I go? I think my concern is spoilage with the sap and spoilage with the syrup if I keep adding as I boil down other buckets through out the weeks. I hope that made sense.
    Thank you for any help!

  38. What a fantastic post! Your kids are adorable and look like they’re having a blast! We also tried tapping our trees last year for the first time, we bought a tree tapping kit on Amazon

    (link: http://www.amazon.com/Maple-Syrup-Spile-Lines-Spiles/dp/B00B5579E4)

    It worked much better than we had expected. We connected the lines to some empty water cooler bottles and ended up with 1.5 gallons of syrup after boiling it down over a propane burner.

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