Backyard Sugaring for Homemade Maple Syrup

| 3/30/2015 1:17:00 PM

Backyard Maple Tapping

Backyard Scramblin’

I’ve always had a craving for sweet foods, especially as a kid. I also liked to climb trees; still do. I remember when the two cravings came together one day in my backyard near New Paltz, N.Y. My brother and I were climbing a tree. We didn’t know what type of tree it was, but it was high enough with branches that served as good scaffolding to shimmy around in. I remember noticing an oozing, clear substance trickling down the bark of the trunk and limbs. “Hey, let’s taste it,” I thought. So I did, and it was sweet. Soon the tree found both my brother and I scurrying for sap like two squirrels raiding a bird feeder. I was happy as a tree sloth: I had something sweet to eat, while some branches to climb, too.

The substance was maple sap. I confirmed the tree species a few years ago when I revisited my old backyard. My family moved away to nearby Gardiner, but I never forgot those trees. I asked the landowner living there for permission to walk about. Sure enough, there were two large sugar maples where I had climbed almost twenty-five years ago! I saw its lower branch reach out into the yard – like it did then – instigating me to let go and revisit a slice of childhood. I thought better; it wasn’t my place any more.

Backyard Trees for Sap

Sugar maple is not the only tree that produces abundant sap in late winter and early spring. Sycamore; black walnut; paper, black, and yellow birch trees; and all maples trees can be tapped for their sap.

However, some are sweeter than others. For instance, birch trees seem to produce more sap than any other tree. They’ll fill up a 5-gallon bucket in one day. However, it’s about 99 percent water, or 1 percent sugar. That means it’ll take about 85 gallons of birch sap to boil down to one gallon of syrup. After burning a lot of firewood, it boils down to a molasses flavor that some enjoy, and others not so much. Alaska produces the most birch syrup, but maple is not on their forest dessert menu.

I tasted black walnut recently at the New York Maple Conference – and it’s good. However, its syrup contains a lot of pectin and is difficult to filter. In addition, the Catskills and mid-Hudson Valley are not as abundant in black walnut as they are in maple. What about sycamore? There aren’t many of them, and they are mostly found growing in floodplains near streams and rivers.

Comparing Sugar Maple and Red Maple for Sap Production

Maple is abundant – relatively speaking – and gives ample sap and sugar content. You can tap any of them; even Norway maple (Acer platanoides), according Steve Childs from Cornell Maple Research Program and Extension. Commercial producers typically tap sugar (Acer saccharum) and red maple (Acer rubrum). Quality syrup can be made by either of the two. It was thought that red maple had lower sugar contents, made darker syrup, and had a “buddier” sap because its buds break dormancy earlier than sugar maples.

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