Maple sugaring: From sap to tasty syrup

by Pam Roberts

In March and April on Camp and Chapman streets, passersby may notice plastic jugs or zip-lock bag’s hanging from many of the silver maple trees along the roadsides. Looking closer you would see drip, drip, drip, sap, that is, being collected for maple syrup. Two serious syruping groups were discovered in Ely. The Haaversen family were the ones with the plastic bottles hanging on trees and Ray Carlson’s crew had the plastic bags. The tapping method may be different but the processing idea is the same. Get the sap out of the trees and boil it down to make maple syrup. <BR><BR>Usually the maple syruping season is about 2-3 weeks during spring thaw. Each year when day time temperatures rise above freezing, and temps drop down again below freezing at night, the sap starts to flow in the trees. Maple trees can be tapped with spiles, the sap runs through the spile and into an attached pail, bottle, bag, can, or whatever can collect and keep the sap clean. It is emptied into larger containers and stored until enough sap is collected, at least 20 gallons. <BR><BR>Roy Carlson and Dale Olson collect the sap from the trees using plastic zip-lock freezer bags. They drill two holes into the tree about 2 1/2 - 3 inches and put plastic tubing into the tree for a spout, just far enough to keep it stuck in the tree, and angle the tube into plastic bags. Depending on how good the sap is running they will empty the bags 3-4 times a day. <BR><BR>Roy says “There’s a lot of work involved. It’s a non-profitable business but it’s a lot of fun. Roy says, “Half the people in Ely have tasted the syrup we got”. <BR><BR>Floyd Dubbin stokes the fire and scoops the foam off the top. <BR><BR>Roy says: “It’s a nice time of year. You can’t do nothing else. Fishing is over with. I can’t run the mill. There’s still frost in the ground. I started small just making enough for myself then a younger brother started with me but after a couple years thought it was too much work so he got out of it. Then an older brother helped for quite a few years. Then Pete Pryatel was with me but he died of cancer. It is a lot of fun. We have a big dinner.” <BR><BR>Roy usually collects 150- 160 gallons before he’ll cook it down. THEN FIRE UP THE BOILER!! The sap is poured into a big pot, kettle or reservoir (separator) and brought to a rolling boil and kept boiling. Each time the moisture is boiled out, the contents gets lower and more sap is added. This is repeated until all the sap that has been collected is boiled down and thickened. <BR><BR>As the sap thickens it starts to foam and that gives makers the signal that it is turning into syrup. At this point it is usually brought inside and boiled some more, with a thermometer in place. The contents must be watched very carefully or it will harden into candy. The sap will boil at 207 degrees until most of the light sap or moisture is out. It has to be bought up 7-8 degrees over the boiling point to 215 to drive off more moisture. Going in excess of that and kept on boiling, it would turn into hard rock candy. Syrup makers keep a constant eye on the thermometer. <BR><BR> When the thickness is just right, the syrup is poured into hot canning jars, covered with lids, and put into a hot water bath for about 15 minutes to seal and preserve the syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup - liquid gold. <BR><BR>The beautiful dark golden color gives way to the delicious maple flavor, the real maple that comes from the real process: lots of hard work, working together, fired up and seasoned by spring time itself.<BR><BR>