Like all good things, the maple tapping season must come to an end. Those few weeks sure went by fast! Just a few quick chores left and then you can get to enjoying your sweet bounty. Before you can call it done, you’ll need to remove the taps, clean everything up, and store it away until next year. So how do you know when the season is over?
Three Ways to Tell the Season is Over
Look for these simple signs that the tapping season is done for the year (we hope it’s the first one!):
Sign No. 1: You’ve made all the syrup you want! Unless you know another sugarmaker who wants your sap, you can remove the taps whenever you’ve reached your goal.
Sign No. 2: The sap flow slows down dramatically – this usually happens because the freeze/thaw temperature cycle has passed. You’ll still get a little sap each day but this change usually leads to the next sign:
Sign No. 3: The tree buds out. This is the final straw for your sugarmaking! Once those buds appear, the sap develops an off or “buddy” flavor and it will not make good tasting syrup.
How to Remove Taps and Take Care of Trees
With a claw hammer, gently pry the spile from the tree. With a little pressure, it will pop right out. Avoid digging into the bark with your hammer or applying too much pressure on the spile. Once the spiles are out, you don’t need to do anything to the tree. It will heal naturally over the summer. Next year when you tap, be sure to locate your new taphole at least 12 inches above or below and 6 inches sideways from this mark.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, dish soap or detergent is the enemy of good tasting syrup. Even a tiny leftover trace can ruin a batch’s flavor! All equipment can be sufficiently cleaned with hot water but if you must use a cleaner, opt for a mild bleach solution (one part unscented, regular household bleach (not commercial strength) combined with 20 parts hot water). Swirl your spiles, buckets, lids, and cooking equipment in this solution. Bags or sacks should not be cleaned with bleach. For tubing, force the bleach solution through the entire tube while plugging one end. Be sure the tubing is filled and let the bleach solution sit in the tube for a day or two. After cleaning, thoroughly rinse all equipment so no traces of bleach remain and allow to air dry completely before storing away. Next season before tapping, rinse everything again with fresh hot water. When using tubing, some producers also allow the first day’s sap to run onto the ground just to ensure the bleach is removed.
That’s it for cleanup! As you put away your gear, inspect everything for wear and tear and replace anything that’s showing rust, cracks, or tears. This is also a good time of year to make a few notes about the season: which trees produced the best; how the cooking process went; when the season started and ended; how much sap you collected and how much syrup you made; and anything else that could make next year go smoother.
Now to the Good Part: Enjoying Your Maple Syrup!
After you’ve had your fill of flapjacks – and still have a pantry full of pure maple syrup – you’ll want to venture past the breakfast table. Maple syrup is delicious in everything from cocktails to side dishes to entrees to desserts and you can find hundreds of recipes on most online recipe sites. Don’t be afraid to experiment and add a drizzle to veggies or mix in a couple tablespoons with your homemade granola. Maple syrup is also a great replacement for white sugar but obviously it will impart a maple flavor to your dish. Generally, one cup of pure maple syrup equals one cup of sugar and can be swapped out in most recipes. For cookies and cakes that also use liquid ingredients, just reduce the liquids by three tablespoons for each cup of maple syrup used.
Candy, cream, and maple sugar are all created by boiling the pure maple syrup to different temperatures. Here are a couple favorites to try this weekend:
Jack Wax or Maple-on-Snow
A classic maple syrup candy and a huge kid favorite is the taffy-like candy called “Jack Wax”. This is made when hot syrup is poured over snow and hardens into sweet candy ribbons. To make your own, start out by filling a pan with clean snow or shaved ice and keep frozen. Syrup needs to be boiled to a higher temperature – you can use pre-bottled and reheated syrup or just continue to the desired temperature with your initial boil. For taffy consistency, boil syrup to 230 degrees F and for more brittle, glass-like candy, boil to 252 degrees F. Consistency changes within this temperature range. Once your syrup has reached your preferred temperature, immediately pour it in ribbons on the snow or ice. It will instantly harden and should be eaten right away.
Maple Butter or Maple Cream
Another versatile and favorite maple syrup creation is Maple Cream and it’s delicious as a spread for bagels, smothered on sweet potatoes, or as a dip for fruit slices. To make Maple Cream, add 1/4 teaspoon of butter or cream to approximately 2 cups of pure maple syrup and boil to 236 degrees. While it’s boiling, fill a large bowl with ice and water. When the batch reaches the proper temperature, set the entire pot in the ice bath – do not stir or let water lap over edge. When it’s cooled to room temperature, remove from the ice bath and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until it turns opaque and becomes the consistency of peanut butter. Store in the refrigerator. Only light colored syrups will work for making maple cream.
By now you can officially call yourself a sugarmaker. And I’ll guess it was much easier than you thought it would be! After you’ve been through this first season, you’ve probably learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. In my next blog, I’ll share some of those lessons and offer up tips for making next year even more productive.
You can also read all of Julie’s blogs in this series here. For more information on sugarmaking, Julie's books, Guide to Maple Tapping and Kid’s Guide to Maple Tapping, are available on Amazon in both ebook and printed versions.
The information and instructions contained within this blog series were gleaned through the personal sugarmaking experience of the author, through interviews and case studies with professional sugarmakers, and through these resources:
1. Blumenstock, Marvin (author); Hopkins, Kathy (editor); How to Tap Maple Trees and Make Maple Syrup, 2007
2. Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program, Frequently Asked Questions for the Maple Producer, Forest Owner, and Consumer, authored by Peter J. Smallidge, Marianne E. Krasny, Lewis J. Staats, Steve Childs, and Mike Farrell, 2013
3. Heiligmann, Randall B., Ohio State School of Natural Resources, Hobby Maple Syrup Production
4. Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, Explaining Sap Flow, 2014
5. Michigan Maple Syrup Association, 2003, Facts and Figures
6. Nebraska Forest Service, Sugar Maple
7. Somerset County Maple Producers Association, New Options for the Maple Spout or Spile, 2012
8. Styles, Serena, Nutrition of Pure Maple Syrup vs Honey, 2014
9. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, Maple Syrup Production, 2014
10. Vogt, Carl, University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota maple series: Identifying maples trees for syrup production, 2013
All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.