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March 8, 2012 Volume 33, No. 23

Preparing maple syrup the traditional way

Making Missouri maple syrup is a great outdoor project for late winter and early spring. Below are the key steps to this American tradition.

Identify maples. Best to approach this task while the trees are still adorned with their characteristic three- or five-lobed leaves. You should only tap healthy trees larger than 12 inches in diameter at breast height.  

Tap during season. When to tap in Missouri is open to question, but late January through mid-April is the usual season. 

However, the freeze-and-thaw cycle is the most important indicator of when to tap, so cold nights followed by warm days are necessary for success. The osmotic pressure created by that cycle forces the sap out more quickly. 

Tools to tap. You’ll need a few tools to do the job properly: a tapper, spouts, a small mallet to seat the spouts, a clean bucket and a sharp 7/16th fast-cutting tapping bit (not a carpenter’s speed bit). Taps should slope slightly upward to promote drainage. 

Filter the sap. Rate of flow depends on various factors, including soil moisture, tree health and weather. If you’re new to sugaring, check your buckets often. 

Be sure to filter the tree sap when collecting it into a bucket and when pouring it into a pan to boil. You don’t want any debris or bugs in your mixture.The goal is pure maple syrup. 

Boil. You can boil the sap on a stove or, more traditionally, over an open fire outdoors. Your target temperature is 218 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t overcook, or you’ll end up with maple sugar, not syrup. 

Need more help? 

Check out The North American Maple Syrup Producers Manual, available for $31 at The Ohio State University Extension’s eStore:

— Mike Burden