Home » A - Z Challenge » Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup

My theme for the A to Z Challenge is Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laura Ingalls Wilder was the author of the Little House books and there was a television series very loosely based on the books. I began reading the books when I was eleven years old (which even I have a hard time believing is over 40 years ago!). If you would like to read about my feelings about Laura, visit this site. I have also listed helpful sites and blogs in my sidebar if you would like to learn more.

M is for Maple Syrup.

“All winter,” Pa said, “Grandpa has been making wooden buckets and little troughs. He made them of cedar and white ash, for those woods won’t give a bad taste to the maple syrup.”

“To make the troughs, he split out little sticks as long as my hand and as big as my two fingers. Near one end, Grandpa cut the stick half through, and split one half off. This left him a flat stick, with a square piece at one end. Then with a bit he bored a hole lengthwise through the square part, and with his knife he whittled the wood till it was only a tin shell around the rough hole. The flat part of the sick he hollowed out with his knife till it was a little trough.”

“He made dozens of them, and he made ten new wooden buckets. He had them all ready when the first warm weather came and the sap began to move in the trees.

“Then he went into the maple woods and with the bit he bored a hole in each maple tree, and he hammered the round end of the little trough into the hole, and he set a cedar bucket on the ground under the flat end.

“The sap, you know, is the blood of a tree. It comes up from the roots, when warm weather begins in the spring, and it goes to the very tip of each branch and twig, to make the green leaves grow.

“Well, when the maple sap came to the hole in the tree, it ran out of the tree, down the little trough and into the bucket.”

“Oh, didn’t it hurt the poor tree?” Laura asked.

“No more that it hurts you when you prick your finger and it bleeds.” said Pa.

“Every day Grandpa puts on his boots and his warm coat and his fur cap and he goes out into the snory woods and gathers the sap. With a barrel on a sled, he drives from tree to tree and empties the sap from the buckets into the barrel. Then he hauls it to a big iron kettle, that hangs by a chain from a cross-timer between two trees.

“He empties the sap into the iron kettle. There is a big bonfire under the kettle, and the sap boils, and Grandpa watches it carefully. The fire must be hot enough to keep the sap boiling, but not hot enough to make it boil over.

“Every few minutes the sap must be skimmed. Grandpa skims it with a big, long-handled wooden ladle that he made of basswood. When the sap gets too hot, Grandpa lifts ladlefuls of it high in the air and pours it back slowly. This cools the sap a little and keeps it from boiling too fast.

“When the sap has boiled down just enough, he fills the buckets with syrup. After that, he boils the sap until it grains when he cools it in a saucer.

“The instant the sap is graining,  Grandpa jumps to the fire and rakes it all out from beneath the kettle. Then as fast as he can, he ladles the thick syrup into the milk pans that are standing ready. In the pans the syrup turns to cakes of hard, brown, maple sugar.”
                                   –Little House in the Big Woods, Chapter 7: The Sugar Snow
                                     by Laura Ingalls Wilder

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that we tap trees here in the spring and make our own maple syrup. Our son and his best friend started the project when they were teenagers with help from the dads. Now it is mostly the dads doing all the work. Once in a while my daughter and I help out.

The process is a whole lot different than when Grandpa did it way back in the Big Woods of Wisconsin.

First of all, no wooden taps or wooden buckets that the guys would have to spend months making by hand.
Although Jim did make the first taps, but out of steel not wood.
A whole is drilled into the tree using a gas drill.
In the early years, they started off by saving jugs all year and modifying them to hang on the tap.

Gradually they started using plastic boughten taps with tubing running to five gallon buckets.
Much easier to collect as you can run multiple taps to one bucket which holds more sap than a jug.
No oxen hauling a sled that holds the big barrel for the sap.
It’s a tank attached to the back of the four-wheeler.
We still drive from area to area in our woods and carry the jug or bucket to the four-wheeler to empty into the tank.
When the sap is all collected, it is then pumped from the collection tank
to this holding tank. This is done twice a day when the sap is running.
It is then added to the sap boiler where it is boiled until the time is just right and it becomes maple syrup.
And that is the tricky part!
This is still done over a fire which must be watched carefully. The fire cannot be allowed to go out or get too hot. The sap must be stirred to keep it from getting too hot. When the time is close, it must be watched constantly.
If it is bottled too soon, it is no good. If it is left to boil even a few minutes too long then it starts graining and is no good for syrup.
Yes, we do know this from experience!
It is then filtered several times…
And finally filtered into canning jars.
(we sometimes re-boil it and re-bottle it into official maple syrup jugs)

So you see, over 150 years it’s much easier to tap the trees, collect the sap, boil it down, and bottle the syrup. But it’s still a long and demanding process and some things really haven’t changed much at all.

And just for sticking with me all the way through this post, you have earned the chance to win a 1/2 pint jug of our own maple syrup! Be a public follower and comment on this post and you will be entered into a drawing to take place on April 30.

Good Luck!

 **Join me and many other Laura fans at LauraPalooza 2012 (the
second-ever Laura Ingalls Wilder Conference), which will be held July
12-14, 2012, in Mankato, Minnesota. For more information visit Beyond Little House and look for the heading “LauraPalooza 2012”. The pull down menu will have all of the information that you are looking for!**

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20 thoughts on “Maple Syrup

  1. How fun, thanks for the opportunity! This was so interesting to read. When I was a kid, I so wanted to tap trees and make syrup exactly as Laura described it in the Big Woods book. Of course back then I didn't think much about all the work that would have been involved LOL.

  2. Surgaring Off time was one of the most exciting parts in "Little House in the Big Woods". We had two maple trees in our yard when growing up, but I couldn't convince my dad that we needed to make our syrup. I would love to try some home-made syrup.

  3. Love the maple syrup. We live right on the fringe of syrup country here ourselves. As a kid, I remember that our long laneway was lined with maple trees and Dad and Grandad would collect the sap and Gran would boil it down for syrup. Not a huge production but enough to give us a few jars of syrup. We like it on our oatmeal in place of sugar.

  4. I've been sending you little posts by "replying." Do they get to you? I didn't know to go "here" to respond. I just sent you a reply telling you I didn't know about this and how interesting it is. I am so excited about knowing this. I learned something new today. Thanks for sharing. I am learning so much by reading your A-Z posts. THANKS!!

  5. I use maple syrup in place of sugar for just about everything; we love the extra flavor it gives various dishes. Great giveaway! Do you own a maple grove, or are you able to tap trees on public land?

  6. Isn't it funny how something like this can only be modernized so much? Thanks for showing how it's done now!mmmmmm syrup!

  7. That was so interesting to see how it's done and how much work goes into it. No wonder it costs so much at the store ;).So nice of you to offer this giveaway. I've just become a follower of your blog.Hugs,Kim

  8. Oh, I like so much catching some glimpses of the process! I always liked how Laura described all the recipes, and tasks, and how things were and were done back in those days — a real cultural treasure.

I would love to hear what you think!

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