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Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Mathematics of Sap to Syrup: Is It Worth It?

     In a good year it takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.  There are 64 ounces in a gallon.  Using this ratio that means that one gallon of sap will net you about 6.4 ounces of syrup.  That's a little more than 2/3 of a cup.  I don't know how much that costs in electricty.  I suspect it costs something, but I haven't figured that into it yet.  Last year when I boiled enough sap to make 1.25 gallons of syrup our electric bill did not increase.  However, I took great pains during that time to turn off anything electric that we didn't need on.  Lights.  TV.  Other.  I also employed the top of our pellet stove to heat the sap to warm before pouring it into the pot on the stove top.
     Now let's get back to that one gallon of sap.  If you boil down one gallon and end up with 2/3 of a cup you run the great risk of burning the syrup to the bottom of the pot.  It's best to have at least three gallons to boil down to syrup.  When I only have a little bit of sap, I only boil it down partway.  It's not syrup at that point, but has genrally taken on an amber color and tastes pretty sweet already.  I let that cool, pour it off into a Mason jar and stick it in the refrigerator.  The next time I boil sap down, I add this too it.  This way enough is in the pot so that it can be boiled to syrup stage without being so little that it burns to the bottom of the pot.
      If there would be a day when the sap is flowing like crazy and it would mean 24/7 in the kitchen boiling sap, I would (and did, last year) fire up the wood stove that sits in our yard.  Last year I burned scrap wood in it, but this year we have a birch tree all chopped down, cut up and ready for splitting and building a fire.
     Is it worth it and why do I bother?  This question has been posed to me by several people and I am going to wax a little philosophical here.  Is art worth the effort?  Seriously, consider all the time and effort that an artist takes to learn a craft and then create a work.  Will that artist (I include musicians here) ever see all the time spent come back as cash money?  Is money earned or not spent, the only thing that makes any work worth doing?  And syrup of all things.  We're going to eat that.  It's not even like it will hang on a wall somewhere or be recorded for generations to come.  So why bother?
     I bother doing this because it is the season of sugar.  The year goes round, the earth gives us her stuff, and this is the season to get sugar from the maple trees.  I also happen to like the taste of real maple syrup.  I suppose I could just go to the grocery store and buy some, but there stand the trees - all full of sap and ready to give us some.
      In the time it took me to write this, the sap I collected this morning has pretty much boiled down to where I'm going to pour this off into a quart jar and save for later to add to another batch.  Not much sap this morning.  Although it will be very warm today - 60 F - it did not go down to freezing last night so the trees are running slowly.  Also, the Norway Maple that I had two taps in has now budded.  I'll be plugging up those holes today and moving the jugs down to the sugar maples by the creek.  

1 comment:

  1. I found myself in the local supermarket after reading this 'Is it worth it' post. Passing by the cereal food section the syrup shelf caught my eye. 'How much do they charge for maple syrup' I pondered. I found two different brands, one from Canada, the other from Michigan. Long-short; cost is between 75-80 cents an oz. here in Mich. That means the small jar I was looking at costs about $8. If your making gallons thats a whole bunch of eight dollarses...

    Pete -Michigan


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