Tell Me About It: Right in your own backyard

April 14, 2013

An interview with Steve Ackerman. HIS ROLE: Maple syrup maker.

1. Where did you learn to make maple syrup?

We moved to Lima a little over a year ago, and I realized we had a lot of maple trees around. I had heard that you could make your own syrup from tapping maple trees. So, I looked it up on a website and searched on the Internet. I found out it was pretty straightforward.

2. How do you know the right time to tap for the sap?

The science behind it is the trees store starches during the winter, and as it warms up it converts that starch to sugar. The optimal time when you want to do it is when it is above freezing in the daytime ó somewhere in the upper 30s. Then at night, you want it to drop below freezing. That temperature variation causes the pressure to build up in the tree and causes the sap to come out the hole that you drill.

4. What kind of tools or supplies did you need?

I just used ordinary milk jugs to collect the sap. I just had it hooked up to the tree and used some plastic tubing attached to the jug to collect the sap. The tap was just a union ó a plumbing part ó I got at Menards. You just need something that will stick out of the tree so the sap will go into the jug. You just drill a hole and tap it gently in with a hammer. Then we had a separate five-gallon bucket that we kept in our sunroom. Basically, you had to go out every day and dump the sap we collected into the big bucket and then attach the jug back to the tree.

3. Was there a specific place you had to put the tap in the tree?

No, not really. I just drilled a hole and stuck it in the tree. It does have to be on a slight upward angle so the sap will run out of the tree.

4. What was the collection process like?

Iíd check the buckets every day after work. Then once it started getting warmer, like it would be above 40 most days, I just stopped collecting it. We collected sap for about a month.

5. How much sap did you end up getting?

I tapped four trees this year, and only two of them gave a lot of sap. We got 10 gallons of sap. That sounds like a lot but it isnít really. Itís 40 parts sap to one part syrup. So, from 10 gallons of sap we got about three pints of syrup.

6. What is the process of sap to syrup?

So, we had our big collection of sap. The hardest part was storing it because it had to be a certain temperature, about fridge temperature, but we had this huge bucket that wouldnít fit in our refrigerator. We kept ours in our sunroom because it is cool in there. Basically, what you have to do is boil off all the water until you get all the way down to the syrup. So, what we had was just multiple pans of syrup on our stove, and one Saturday we boiled off all that water. It took hours and hours. It was a long process. It took 12 hours. In fact, we did it over two days because we finally called it quits at 11 on a Saturday night. It starts out clear like water, and as it boiled down it would start to turn this amber color and became more viscous.

7. Did you like the syrupís taste?

Yes, but it tasted a lot different than Aunt Jemima syrup you buy in the store. It was a lot thinner and sweeter.

8. Do you think youíll do this again?

Yes, probably. The only reason Iím hesitant is because of how much work it was to boil off the water. I want to do more research to see if there is an easier way to do that. Iíll probably tap maybe five trees next time.