Michigan-Made Syrup

Michigan-Made Syrup

Tapping and Boiling: A (Mostly!) Spring Guide to Michigan-Made Syrup

The Tap

I’ll never be one to complain about the coming of spring. Every year I look forward to the snow being replaced by morning frost, warming throughout the day. I look forward to the budding of trees, the greening of grass. But before we transition completely from winter to spring, there is one thing you must do in Michigan: make your own maple syrup!

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

When the days begin to warm, but the nights still fall below freezing, it’s tapping season! Far more simple than one would imagine, anyone with a maple tree or two on their property (or use a friend’s and share the syrup) can participate in this must-do project. The supply list is as follows:

  • A spile (or tap)
  • Hammer
  • Drill with appropriate bit (a tiny bit larger than your spile)
  • Bucket with a lid
  • Last, but certainly not least, a tree!

There are many variations of this supply list (we use tubing to run from the tree to bucket), but until you get serious and start supplying your friends and neighbors with syrup, the shorter the list the better.

I won’t bore you with a long “how-to” list; you can find endless resources online with step by step instructions for identifying trees and tapping them, but the gist is this:

  • Take a walk in the woods and find some sugar maples! Other maples, walnut and birch trees, can be tapped as well, but sugar maples are most commonly used for their high sugar content.
  • Drill a hole! We usually dig between knee and chest height, and preferably on the south side of the tree, which gets the most sun. Drill to the depth of your spile, and push it in. On a good day, the sap will start flowing immediately, so place your bucket and let it run.

Every year I’m surprised by the amount of sap that makes its way into our buckets, and every year I am surprised by how far down the sap cooks once we boil.  Think 65 gallons of sap down to 1.5 of syrup. You can continue to collect sap for 1-3 weeks depending on the season, but once the temperatures stop falling below freezing at night, it’s time to pull the taps and get your boil on!

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-27,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

The Boil

With our group of friends, the sap boil is a yearly excuse to get together, enjoy the outdoors, and stand around and watch water boil (literally). If you’re only boiling for yourself or family, a large pot and a stovetop will do just fine. If you prefer to enjoy the sunshine, put your pot on a fire. Or if you are anything like the resourceful group that I spend time with, build a stove-like contraption with a fire, chimney, and a huge vat, and stand around it for hours while you slowly boil your sap down into syrup.

If you have more sap collected than the pot allows, worry not. As it boils, much of your collection will evaporate, and you can continue to add more as you go. Once it begins to darken and thicken (you’ll know, I promise!), reduce your cook temperature to simmer. If you’re cooking outside, at this point I recommend bringing it in and finishing on the stove. Stir often as it thickens, and as soon as it looks and feels like syrup; you’re done!

A lot of work for a small payout? Perhaps. But after months of running from heated building to heated building, scraping windshields, and shivering, shoulders to ears, having a reason to soak in the sun and enjoy time with friends, is a “reward in itself.”

Make like we do: invite your cronies, have a potluck, pick up a few growlers of Newaygo Brewing microbrews, and shake those winter blues off. I haven’t even mentioned the taste of your homemade syrup, but I promise, you’ll thank me. Your pancakes will never be the same!

Carmen Faulkner

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About The Author

Carmen Faulkner

Carmen Faulkner is an avid travel enthusiast who grew up in Newaygo County. When she isn’t on the road, she splits her time between her home in Newaygo and the mountains of British Columbia. Her love for all things outdoors is paralleled only to her appreciation of food, coffee, and craft beer. You can find her in our community kayaking down the Muskegon River, hiking the North Country Trail, or enjoying the small businesses of downtown Newaygo.