Maple Sugaring: Boiling

By Aaron Lefland, Forestry and Stewardship Coordinator

For decades, Land’s Sake has been continuing the New England tradition of turning the sweet sap of Sugar Maples into delicious maple syrup. Each year, we tap hundreds of trees, collect thousands of gallons of sap, and boil the sap in our evaporator to create syrup. This blog post will discuss how the water-like sap of the sugar maples is turned into delicious maple syrup.

Evaporate, Evaporate, Evaporate:

When sap comes out of the tree, it is usually around 2-3% sugar (sucrose, specifically), so how do we turn that watery sap into syrup, which is around 66% sugar? The whole sugaring process is really just an elaborate evaporation system. As we heat the sap and keep it at a steady boil, the water in the solution evaporates, leaving sugars behind. As this solution gets more and more concentrated, it turns sweeter and the sugars begin to caramelize and turn a light brown. In total, we will use about 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of syrup!

Feeding the Fire is one of the most important parts of the boiling process
Feeding the Fire is one of the most important parts of the boiling process

Tools of the Trade:

To boil our sap, we use a specially designed apparatus called an evaporator. Evaporators come in all shapes and sizes, but ours in approximately 7’x3′ and consists of two large, square pans mounted above a firebox. The pans have a corrugated bottom which increases the amount of surface area in contact with the fire, and allows us to boil at a very fast rate. Under the pans, we have a giant firebox which is filled with firewood cut by our forestry team. To keep things boiling, we have to feed the fire with about two armfuls of wood every ten minutes. As part of this process, we burn anywhere from 5 to 10 cords of wood each year.

Late Nights at the Sugar Shack:

While tapping the trees and collecting of sap may take a bit of time, the majority of time spent sugaring takes place at the sugar shack. On a good day, we can collect 500-800 gallons of sap, but our evaporator can only process about seventy five gallons of sap per hour. That means that a good sap run can necessitate a ten hour boil! During the boiling process, we are constantly feeding the fire, checking sap levels, and when the time comes, drawing off the finished product of syrup. In order to make the highest quality syrup and ensure that the sap does not spoil (it only has a 3-4 day shelf life), we usually boil immediately after we collect the sap and do not stop until all of the sap is gone.

Want to get involved?

If you are interested in volunteering to collect sap, help with the boiling process, or do anything else maple-related, please join our Land’s Sake email list HERE. If you are interested in volunteering during maple season, sign up HERE. Now that the sap has stated to flow, we will need all hands on deck to help collect the hundreds of buckets we have hung with the help of our volunteers and after school group. If you happen to be around the sugar shack and see steam pouring out of the cupolas, stop by and we will give you an in-person tour of our operation.