The Rap on Sap

Posted on March 14, 2016 by LaVonne Debois
The Rap on Sap

March 10, 2016

Driving around Holmes and Wayne Counties, you are sure to see signs of the end of winter and beginning of spring. Crocuses are peaking out of the ground and buds on the trees start to show new life. 

Another visible sign from the road are fields of Maple Trees decorated with plastic bags or buckets. This is a sign that the sap is ready to run.  Many families invest hours and hours tapping trees and stringing vacuum lines from the trees to the sugarhouse in hopes for a good return of delicious maple syrup. 

I recently sat down with an Amish Bishop from Becks Mills, Ohio, just south of Charm.  He has been making maple syrup for over 30 years. 

Q ~ Is there a difference in maple trees? 

A ~ Yes, there is a soft and hard maple tree.  Soft maple trees takes twice as long for the sap to run and comes out darker.  Hard maple trees only takes half as much sap to make a gallon.

Q ~ When do you know when to tap the trees?

A ~ It all depends on the weather.  We usually gauge it around February 20, then continue on for the next 6 weeks.  Some people use a vacuum but I don't.  We like the ground to look like "sugar snow", like it looks outside today.  "The sloppier the ground, the better".

Q ~  How much sap can you get from the tree?

A ~   The amount of sap will depend on the size of the tree.  You don't tap a tree if it is less than 10" in diameter. We usually start tapping a tree when it reaches 24" in diameter.  That size tree could be tapped twice. If we get a quart of syrup per tap, that is a good year.  The average tap per tree could vary. Of course the bigger the tree, we would probably go up to three taps a tree. 

Q ~  How soon after you gather the sap, do you take it to the sugar house?

A ~  We have to start cooking it right away. We use wood burning ovens inside our sugarhouse.   The sooner we cook it, the nicer it turns out because sap is like milk. If the sap is left out it will spoil.   We do not add anything to the sap. We cook it at 217 degrees for 4 hours, then we take it out and run the syrup through two filters to extract the impurities then cook it again to 180 degrees.  We do not have to let it cool, so we are ready to fill it into containers.   Some people will take it right out from the evaporator and put it in jars, but we do not use evaporators. 

One unique thing about cooking sap into syrup is the way it looks while its cooking.  Sap in itself does not have a flavor. When it is going thru the cooking process, It almost looks like runny dirt.  It's almost like seeing what cheese looks like in the vats.  You probably would not want to eat it if you would see it during the process.  In the end, we are pleased with the result.

Q ~ What is the cost of the maple syrup?

A ~ We bottle it into pints, quarts and gallons.  The going cost is $36 per gallon. Pints we get $6, quarts are $10. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Q ~  What is the shelf life?

A ~ There is no expiration date.  Once you open the jar, it needs refrigerated.

Q ~ I noticed several local families are serious about making maple syrup. Is it popular in Holmes County, Ohio?

A ~ Yes, in our own neighborhood we have several families who do well with their maple syrup business.  I know of many other families who do very well too.  As I would say, they have a big time operation. Orders come in from all over the country either by individual or wholesale.  We get orders in the mail.  We don't have websites or email.  People know us by word of mouth and referrals.  I can say we stay busy.

Q ~ What else may we be surprised to learn about sap?

A ~ Sap isn't sticky.  It actually looks like a clear liquid.  A lot of hours goes into getting it from the tree to your table.

For more information and do it yourself kits.                                                                 Orme Hardware in Berlin, Ohio.  4888 Elm Street  330-893-2812