by Teresa Woodard
In fall, identify maple trees by their distinct three- to five-lobed-and-toothed leaves. Look for ones with at least a 12-inch diameter trunk. In the winter, the bare, mature trees can still be identified by their furrowed bark with long, irregular, and partially peeling strips. For help, check the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ tree index and photos online.
Gather and clean equipment including buckets, lids, drills with 7/16-inch or 5/16-inch bits, spiles (pegs for draining sap), hooks and cheesecloth. Shop early in the winter before supplies become scare. Ohio sources include Erlsten Maple Products (419-362-6275; erlstenmaple.com) in Mt. Gilead, Josh Williams (614-920-1935) in Canal Winchester, and Fitch Pharm Farm (419-281-4407; fitchpharmfarm.net) in Ashland.
When daytime temperatures rise above freezing (32°) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing, prepare to tap the trees. On the south side of the trunk, drill a 2 to 2½-inch tap hole that is slanted slightly upward and positioned three feet from the ground, ideally above a large root or below a large branch. Clear any wood shaving from the hole, insert the spile, and gently tap it into the tree. Hang the bucket from the spile’s hook and attached the lid to the spile.
When the sap is flowing, collect it daily, use the cheesecloth to filter out any foreign material, and store the sap in food-grade buckets or clean milk jugs. Store the sap at 38° or colder, and process within seven days to prevent spoilage.
To make maple syrup, fill a large pot three-quarters full with sap, and boil the excess water from the sap by cooking it over an open pit, outdoor grill, or kitchen stove. Ten gallons of sap will generate one quart of syrup. As the water evaporates, gradually add more sap while trying to maintain the boil. Once the sap has been boiled down, transfer it to a smaller pot and finish cooking it indoors to a temperature of 7° over boiling, and sticky in texture. Filter the finished syrup through clean wool or a syrup filter then pour into sterilized bottles. The bottled syrup can be stored for up to two months in the refrigerator. It also can be frozen (in a freezer-safe containers) to extend shelf life.