Do you know about the process of tapping maple syrup? We place maple taps in trees to collect the sap in early spring. The watery sap is boiled down over a fire until it thickens into maple syrup.
It is not only Rock Maples, also called Sugar Maples, that produce a sweet sap in the early spring. Other maples such as the Silver or River Maple will also produce a sweet sap. We tap several Silver Maples in the yard and although the sap is not as sweet to begin with, once it is boiled down there is virtually no difference in the syrup. It does take longer and more energy (in our case firewood) to make syrup out of the lesser maples, but it is just as good in the end.
One of our favorite trees is the Ash Leaf Maple. It is an excellent sweet sap producer, starting earlier then the other maples and having a strong flow. We have one Ash Leaf Maple that we tap regularly that has produced as much as 4 gallons of sap in one day!
The Ash Leaf Maple, also known as the Boxwood Elder tree, is a common low land tree often found in dense populations along the rich soils of creek bottoms. The Ash Leaf Maple is second only to the Sugar Maple in sugar content in its sap, so it is a good second choice for maple syruping.
In the early spring, usually in February or March in this area, the days will reach the low fifties, and fall below freezing at night. This is perfect tapping weather as the trees attempt to push sweet sap up to their forming buds. The freezing night temperatures cause the sap to return to the roots. This temperature difference creates the pressure that causes the sap to "flow". If the nightime temperatures stay above freezing then the flow is greatly reduced. It pays to get your maple taps in early since the first sap to flow is always the sweetest.
We enjoy good homemade maple syrup more then anything else on pancakes in the morning, so when it is available it does not last long. But it can be used as a sugar substitute for other things, as well. We often use the first gallon of sap to make a naturally sweet tea.
To make maple syrup, you need to boil off the sap roughly 40 to 1. That means that it you will need to collect about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. You will need even more sap if you are using some of the lesser maples.
We usually store our sap for a few weeks in large plastic totes in the shade, and if we have had any snow, we will shovel the snow around the totes in order to keep the sap as cool as possible. Since the sap has a high sugar content, if it is allowed to stay to warm it can quickly become cloudy and spoil. If you do not have cold storage, you should boil your sap off more quickly in smaller batches. There are more efficient ways to collect and process maple sap into maple syrup, but the small batch method over a wood fire is probably the most fun!