Making maple syrup is messy and time consuming. It’s also easy to mess up. Sap grows mold easily and has to be kept cold until it is boiled. It takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Although it initially sounded like a fun outdoor project, when I really thought about the cost, I hesitated. Who has time to spend each day collecting sap? Who has full days off where they have to stay home to boil down the sap, knowing that a full 5 gallon bucket will produce 1 pint of syrup? It really makes $10 for a bottle of syrup seem downright reasonable.
So why on earth did I do it?
Saxton started tapping a couple of trees for the sap in February. There really are some wonderful benefits of drinking the sap from certain trees with little or no boiling. We started off by drinking a little sap or adding a little sap to our tea and coffee as a sweetener. Maple sap tastes a little like strange water. That’s the only way I can describe it. Of course, it is 90% water. A tree’s sap moves up the trunk and into the branches to supply the tree with the nutrients it needs to make buds and leaves; People, animals, and bugs can all benefit from consuming it. Soon we realized that we had more sap than we were going to be able to drink and I had to decide whether or not I really wanted to tackle the syrup project.
I had big syrupy dreams about using our homemade syrup on pancakes all year and having extras to give away and sell. Those were always smothered by the reality that it was unlikely that I would even get enough syrup to cover one pancake breakfast. I was also worried that I would start the project, realize I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to it, and I would waste the sap that the tree could have really used. My decision was made by a chat I had with my grandmother.
My Great Grandfather, Rodney Miner
I brought some sap to her house and she said that it reminded her of her father, Rodney. I never met my great grandfather, but my recent interest in the outdoors has really opened up a relationship with him that I wouldn’t have had otherwise through my grandmother’s stories of him. He tapped some trees and made his own maple syrup. My grandmother remembers how much work it was, but he did it anyway. I realized that I really wanted this connection to my great grandfather Rodney, and decided to go through with the syrup making.
Although I only got 1/2 pint of pancake quality syrup, all the time and effort was completely worth it for me. The time I spent walking to the two trees we tapped was relaxing and great exercise. I got some great practice starting and tending the fires on the days when I boiled down sap. I feel like the time I used was well spent. My hands froze on days I pulled the frozen water out of the 5 gallon buckets. My lungs were sore after a day of tending the fire and being near the steam coming off of the boiling sap. I had burns on my hands from a few times when I wasn’t very careful tending the fire. On several occasions, I boiled the sap past the point of syrupy goodness into a rock-hard sugar that I’m not sure how I’m going to use yet. Despite all this, I’m excited to make syrup again next year. In a time when people are increasingly drawn to tasks that make life easier, I found solace in a task that made life more meaningful.
Photography by Taylor and Saxton, with the exception of the photograph of Rodney Miner, courtesy of Joyce Small
All photography in this article is property of Saxtonoutdoors.com