Making Maple Syrup in the Heartland


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Hannah Hemen

Living in the Midwest means we’re able to do something each year most people around the world can’t. We can make maple syrup. Maple syrup is boiled down from the sap of maple trees and all the maple syrup supplied around the world is harvested from trees in the “Maple Belt”. The Maple Belt stretches from Minnesota to Maine and north into Canada. I’m lucky enough to live near Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota which is rumored to produce the sweetest syrup. 

Growing up, tapping trees was something I looked forward to every year. While it is quite a process, making syrup can be a fun project to welcome the spring. I remember going around to all our tapped trees and gathering the sap we had collected in ice cream buckets and coffee cans. Once we had enough to cook, we would boil the sap down to syrup over a fire. 

This year my boyfriend and I decided we wanted to make syrup. It was something both us grew up doing with our families, but had not done ourselves. When tapping trees with my parents, we would use metal taps with any containers we could find. Ice cream buckets worked great because they could be hung right on the taps, but I also remember using coffee cans nailed to the tree. This year, Justin and I decided to upgrade from what my parents did and went with sap bags. This was a new concept to me but they sure work well! We bought a kit of 12 metal taps, 12 bags, and 12 bag holders. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of plastic, especially when it comes to food. If it was just me I would purchase the stainless steel sap buckets. They are reusable and durable enough to last years. I also recommend metal taps over the plastic ones you often see nowadays. While metal taps, like the buckets, are more expensive, they do last a lot longer. I have heard many stories and reviews of the plastic taps cracking. 

This year’s setup!

Maple sap typically flows best in Minnesota in March when the temperature is in the 40s during the day but freezing overnight. This year we were able to get an early start and put our taps out March 3rd. We tapped 12 maple trees on my grandma’s land and another dozen at a client of mine’s house right on Mille Lacs Lake. Sap flowed fairly well so being early the first week, but then we got a warm spell that slowed production quite a bit, however, this past week has been PERFECT weather for sap flow. Every day or so we bring our 5 gallon buckets out to collect sap. At first an average day produced around 10-12 gallons. This past week we had a day we collected nearly 30 gallons in a single day! 

Since we both work during the week. Our sap cooking days are reserved for Saturdays and Sundays. The first weekend we built a makeshift cooker out of large wood chunks mainly for a wind block, but the wind was strong and the cooker didn’t work as well as we had hoped. The next weekend we got an old cooker from Justin’s dad that was built just for the purpose of syrup cooking. Needless to say, it works much better. 

Working with what we had..

For our first cook, we started with about 40 gallons of sap. The ratio for maple sap to maple syrup is typically 40:1, but it can vary depending on the year and sugar content of the sap. The sap needs to be cooked down to evaporate the water leaving just the sugary syrup. Once the temperature of the sap reaches 7 degrees above the boiling temperature of water, you have syrup. Reaching this temperature is critical in preserving the shelf life of your syrup. If the water content is too high, it can be susceptible to mold. Our first day cooking we got about 5.5 pints of syrup from our 40 gallons of sap. Definitely not the usual 40:1 ratio! Our second cook, we did much better. We still had around 40 gallons of sap but we finished with just over 10 pints of syrup. 

Trying out our “new” cooker with some help from the cutest neighbor on the block.

All in all, this year’s syrup cooking adventure has been a fun one! While it’s a lot of work, it’s a great homesteading project during the off-season.

Finished with 44 quarts!

Hannah Hemen

Hannah Hemen

Hannah's favorite topics to write about include DIY projects, her favorite recipes, and life's adventures. When not working on building her business empires, you can usually find her on an adventure with her dog, Dakota or starting a new batch of homemade wine.


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