Saturday, February 11, 2012

Different Store Bought Spiles

I had a Wisconsin Town's Association meeting today and while we were eating dinner a friend on another board asked me if I had tapped any trees yet.  I told him; "Yep I tapped almost 300 so far and my nephews and nieces were out tapping a couple hundred more today."  From there on I was bombarded with questions on how to tap maple trees.  One man said he would like to do it, but he was always so broke this time of year and couldn't afford the couple hundreds of dollars it takes for equipment. 

For me this is funny.  Europeans were taught how to tap maple trees by American Indians who had no metal to drill the hole in the tree or no metal pots to boil the sap down in.  They had been tapping the trees for thousands of years with nothing more than what they found in the forest.  Now I'm not suggesting we go back to stone knives and birchbark baskets (though they are fun to make), but it certainly doesn't take hundreds of dollars to make maple syrup.

As I said before, I use milk cartons, bleach bottles (well dried out), water bottles, heck, whatever is free, as my sap buckets.  I think they actually work better than the $20.00 sap buckets you get online.  The only problem with them is they are really only good for one season and then they begin to break.  No big deal,  when maple season is over I cut out the bottom of the jugs and use them for mini-cloches over my fragile veggie plants I just planted in the garden.

For a drill, anything cordless will do.  If you have a brace and bit or a DeWalt cordless drill, each will cut into the cold wood this time of year.  Just get a drill bit the size of your spile.  And spiles can be cheap or free if you want to put the work into them.  Go to the hardware store and see what they have for seconds PVC pipes.  Usually you can find small bore PVC pipes that someone only wanted 6 ft of and they came in 8 ft long pieces.  You can buy that 2 ft for pennies.  Then just cut that into 3 inch pieces and there you have your spiles.  If you want them for free you can go out and cut a branch off an elderberry bush, cut it into 3 inch pieces and hollow out the pithy center with a straightened coat hanger.  You don't have to worry about the toxins in the elderberry branch this time of the year because all the sap is down in the roots.  There, now you have free spiles.

A sled and a couple water jugs you got at the hardware store will help you carry the sap back to the fire.  And pans for boiling are cheap and easy to get this time of year.  Roasting pans go on sale after the holidays are done.  You can usually find them for half price at the hardware store, or, if you must, at the nearest big box store.  You can usually pick them up for 2 or 3 bucks a piece.  Get a couple of them.

From there you need a boiler.  Concrete blocks, bricks, or even rocks just lying around can be stacked with the grate out of your grill on top of them.  You just need to keep the pans over a fire that you can feed with wood throughout the boil.

Here's a good example of a cheap boiler; some concrete bricks with metal electric fence posts and rebar across them to hold up $5.00 worth of roasting pans.  If you put a tarp over it it would work better, but no need, you just have to only boil on non-snowy or rainy days. 

DO NOT BOIL IT DOWN IN YOUR HOUSE!  Every year someone tries to boil down maple syrup in their house and they ruin their drywall.  Remember, for every 1 gallon of syrup you need 40 gallons of sap.  39 gallons of steam in your house will literally ruin the drywall and rot wooden furniture.  Always boil in a well ventilated area, and no, a kitchen fan is not enough ventilation.  Believe me, I've heard horror stories.

So at this point you may have invest $10.00, except for the drill, and you should have one of those anyway.  Think of that as an investment.  So you boil down the sap until it gets either really low in the pan (you don't want to scorch it or all your work will be ruined), or until is starts to thicken and turn brown in color.  Then, and only then can you put it into a pot and finish boiling it in the house.  Now you only have a little bit of steam left to come off of it.  Pots you should have already. lol

When the syrup sheets off a metal spoon you have syrup.  Put it in hot mason jars and put on hot jar lids.  Because this is mostly sugar you don't need to worry about processing it.  Sugar is a preservative.  Screw the lids on tight, let them cool and then check to make sure they have sealed.  If not, put that into the fridge and make pancakes.  If the jars seals, label them with the date and 'maple syrup' and put them on the shelves.  So the jars are another $5.00 to $10.00 depending on how much syrup you can. 

So for less than $20.00 you can put up this sweet treat for the year. 

If you want, there are plenty of businesses that will sell you spiles and buckets for hundreds of dollars.  If you're a shop-o-holic, don't let me ruin your fun.  But if you just want to go out, enjoy this seasonal treat, and you're as big of a tightwad as I am, it's one of the cheapest ways to put up food stores for the year.  And remember, those pans can be used year after year, just store them in plastic bags because they will get sooty.  Plastic spiles you can wash and put up for the next year.  The drill you can go drill things with.  The finishing pots you can cook the next night's stew in.  Really, most of what you make this year can be used over and over again.  So the cost is spread out over everything else you use the items for.

Maple syrup can be made for pennies and some good hard work.  It beats paying $55.00 a gallon for it (prime maple syrup sold for that last year).  And your old homemade bread, made into french toast, with some homemade maple syrup and homemade butter can bring a smile to your face.  Anyway, it brings a smile to mine. ;-)


  1. I confess I envy all those maple trees! I love maple syrup but we have only one young silver maple on the place, and I'm not inclined to plant young sugar maples at this stage in life. I do like your boiler set-up and may be able to use that idea if we are ever able to make our own sorghum syrup. Sorghum grows well here, but presses seem near impossible to find. Maybe someday.

    1. Mmmm, sorghum, part of our trifecta of sweet. lol I'll ask my brother to make a post on how to make a press. He made the one for our family.

      It does take a long time to grow sugar maples but you can tap that silver maple. It will just take more sap to make syrup. I have 5 silver maples on one of my properties that I bought a few years ago. I tap those and put it into the family's syrup. It usually is a bit darker in color but tastes the same as sugar maple.

  2. mmm, thanks for the inspiration Rea. My Dad's wood next door has some maples, which he doesnt tap. Sounds like a great father, daughter, granddaughter project for next spring...

  3. I love the way you look at things so simply. Makes me think of: Bigger is not always better or K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid!). That last saying may be a little crass but I think we'd all be better off if we went back to living that way. Viva la do-it-yourself!

  4. Rea, you are a gal after my own heart! xx