|An old Maple tree with the tap.|
We use empty milk jugs for collecting the sap at the tree, and old cooking oil jugs to store it until it's time to cook. John and I gathered around eight gallons of sap from the river bottom trees on this particular day. The view from the river bend was also beautiful.
John cut the wood yesterday for the all-day cookdown. This is elm, and John says it burns hotter and longer than oak, which we used last year. The pot is a 25 gallon cast iron boil pot, which John cleaned and carefully placed on a stand. He built the fire underneath the pot and put some sheet metal all around it, so that the fire concentrated directly beneath the pot. Sometimes, the wind makes it harder to cook, so the sheet metal really comes in handy.
This morning, John built the fire at 6 am. He had half of the sap cooked by noon. We had two fires going all day. One cooking the sap under the cast pot, the other on a little gas fish cooker. The small one heated the cold sap up and then as the cast iron pot cooked down, John added the hot sap from the smaller cooker. This keeps the sap hot through the entire cook. If you pour cold sap into a boiling pot, you've lost cook time. This process works well for us.
John added wood and cooked the syrup down until nearly dark. When he had all of the sap cooked down, and had only about 1 1/2 gallons left, we moved it from the cast pot to a smaller pot and cooked it down til we had about one gallon. We test the syrup on a cold plate. If you put some of the sap on the plate and turn the plate up, the syrup should run about an inch and then stop. This is how we decide that it's done. Then, we strained it through four pieces of cheesecloth and once more through a clean cotton towel.
And, this is the finished product. Wonderful, beautiful, delicious maple syrup.