For those of you who, on your own MooseBoots trail, do not have maple trees or simply do not tap them, I thought I would share some of the experience with you. My set-up is very basic, but it seems to do the job. We have been able to make enough syrup for our family for the last 2 years. We've been asked this year if we want to sell some ... we'll see, it is a lot of work.
First, you gather the sap. It has been a bit slow over the last day or so, but with 15 taps there is always plenty. I do have a few that run like the dickens ... the others not so much. There is really nothing so satisfying as emptying the buckets and then hearing this.
I pour the sap into a 55 gallon barrel for storage until I am ready to boil. This acts as both storage and helpd keep the sap viable ... the more mass the longer it takes to warm up and so the sap does not go bad. It also keeps any further bugs and debris out of the sap.
I purchased a large roasting pan a few years ago. This is my primary evaporator pan. I build a fire under it and try to get, and keep, the sap boiling. I have learned that you can not add cold sap and accomplish this with any level of success. So, this year, I have started pre-heating my sap. You can see, from the picture below, that I have several pans going over/near two fires. This allows me to maximize the surface area ... evaporation is all about surface area and pre-heat new sap.
I will warn you, if you try this on your own, that this is the step that takes so much time. My set-up will boil off an average of 2.5 gallons of water per hour (including the heat up time). So longer boils work better and should improve on the boiling rate. It took about 7 hours to make a quart of syrup last night. I am always overzealous and take the stuff out of the big pan and bring it into the house to finish it too early. What takes 2.5 hours in the house should take 0.5 hour in the big pan over the fire. All of this said, I find it relaxing to feed the fire and sit quietly as the sun sets and listen to the sounds of spring ... no, the peepers are not singing yet.
This year, we know of three more families that are tapping their trees for the first time. Two of the families live in the rural suburbs, but ... the last lives in the middle of a small city. Perhaps, this is in some small part from our example. While this MooseBoots journey is about me learning old skills and wisdom, it is satifying to know that I am passing it along and helping to change the world for the better, even when I don't know that I am. I am grateful for these gifts from the trees and from our ancestors.