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Timothy Bausack

A couple years ago I thought it would be neat to try to make maple syrup. I tapped a tree in my parents yard because I lived in an apartment. I collected about 10 gallons of sap and ended up with about a quart of syrup and learned some lessons along the way. Mainly that combating heat loss is crucial. My quickest evaporating came from a small deep fryer.

I learned that it tastes much better than store syrup too.

Now that I have a house and 2 massive sugar maples on my property, I think it's time to give it another shot. This time I am getting a little more serious about it.

I did some research and decided to try and build a temporary oven called a "brick arch" in the backyard. Today I took the family pickup truck to the store and picked up concrete blocks. I had previously purchased a package of disposable aluminum roasting pans like you see at open houses and catered events. My grand idea was to suspend these roasting pans of sap over a hot fire. The internet says that if I put 4 of these 12x20 pans on an oven I should be able to evaporate about 6 gallons of sap an hour. That would be awesome!

This is what a temporary brick arch looks like. It is called an arch because there is a roughly arch-shaped incline inside the oven that goes from about halfway back to the opening for the smoke stack. It guides the hot gases from the fire (which is in the front) along the underside of the pans before going out the chimney.

You can see the beginnings of the fire in the "firebox" at the front of the oven.

I decided I should try the system out to try to rectify any problems that pop up before sugar season is in full swing. It's sure a good thing I thought to do this. I experienced a catastrophic pan failure that turned this dry run into a wet run.

Lessons learned:

  • Having an even surface is crucial for having an arch that is well sealed
  • Gaps around the pans allow heat and smoke to escape. I don't think people like smoky syrup.
  • Some kind of easily removable door that can control the draft would be very handy.
  • The flimsy aluminum pans need to be supported from underneath so that you don't use your precious sap to extinguish a hot fire.
  • Lots of fuel burning close to the base of the pans will be needed to bring the sap to a boil. I never got a boil in my trial.
  • Measures should be taken to prevent smoke and ash from falling into the sap.
  • A chimney that exhausts above eye level would be nice.

Now it's back to the drawing board for the first week of February. We are supposed to get a snowstorm tomorrow and have freezing temperatures all week so I have plenty of time to make adjustments. The sap will start running once the daytime temps are above freezing and the nighttime temps are below freezing. I'll collect sap until it stays above freezing at night and/or the trees start budding out. Once the trees bud, the sap becomes bitter. Maple cookers call this "buddy sap" but it is not friendly to the palette.

By the way. I have been really lazy about continuing my projects this winter. I have been really good about relaxing though! I got a good deal on a table saw and my plan was to fix and paint some shutters and build some screens and storms. I will probably end up waiting until later in the spring for that.