I haven't mentioned it in a while, but February is National Hot Breakfast Month and even though I'm not a morning person, I'm still the one in charge of making sure my husband and son start their day off with a hot and healthy meal. One of my go-to breakfasts has always been buttermilk pancakes, I make up a huge batch most Saturdays and freeze the leftovers to eat during the week when I don't have the energy to stand at the stove and cook at 7am. Sometimes we top them with blueberry Greek yogurt, but more often than not we have them swimming in hot maple syrup from the local Farmer's Market. I didn't realize this until quite recently, but according to the USDA Wisconsin is among the top producers of maple syrup in the United States. In 2013 the crops yielded 265,000 gallons of syrup, to put that into perspective, that's enough syrup to fill nearly half of an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Since I live in Wisconsin right now, I've considered trying my hand at making my own maple syrup (everyone needs a hobby after all,) but I really didn't have an understanding of anything more than the very basics behind the process. I knew you had to tap the trees during the winter, collect the sap, and boil it down, but there was a lot of science behind the process that I was unsure about. Fortunately Alison and Steven Anderson, who just so happen to be the owners of Anderson Maple Syrup near Cumberland, Wisconsin, have recently released a very detailed how-to book covering the process from gathering the sap to marketing your own syrup.
The book starts off with a brief history of the process of making maple syrup and quickly moves into how to identify the four most commonly tapped trees (sugar maple, black maple, red maple and silver maple.) These trees are more desirable for making maple syrup due to the higher sugar content present in the sap. The amount of detail in this section was very helpful, the drawings of the different types of leaves are much more useful than my method of spotting maples trees which is looking for maple seeds, or as we called them as children helicopters.
The next two chapters are dedicated to collecting and cooking sap as well as the various equipment that is needed. I had already done an extensive amount of research into equipment costs and found that this could quickly become an expensive hobby. One thing that I appreciated about this book was that it frequently listed cost-saving alternatives to traditional methods of syrup production which are important to hobbyist and small-business owners alike. Since I'm approaching syrup making as a hobby and not a business, I don't want to invest a lot of money until I'm sure it is something I intend to do year after year and if possible I want to work with some of the tools that I have around the house. I discovered early on in the chapters that I could use the turkey fryer that sits relatively unused out on a shelf in our garage to boil down our sap which means I wouldn't have to invest in a stainless steel sap pan unless I wanted to later on. I also knew that I would need to purchase a hydrometer or refractometer to test the sugar content of the sap and syrup, we have an alcohol hydrometer that my husband uses for his craft brewing, but this is the first book I've read that explains why I can't use it for syrup making. These are the kinds of details that have been left out of many of the other resources that I've consulted and the fact that the Anderson family included them in this book speaks a great deal about the depth of knowledge they have about their craft.
With the exception of the chapters dedicated to end of season care and making other maple products, the later chapters in the book don't apply as much to the home hobbyist. They cover some of the components you would need once you decide to scale into a small business such as filter presses, evaporators, and tubing systems as well as setting up a sugarhouse, grading, and selling your syrup. I feel that this is the perfect go-to reference book for anyone looking to pursue this as a hobby although anyone considering scaling into full time production would likely benefit from a secondary source of information as well.
Now that I've read through the book several times I feel much more confident about pursuing this as a hobby, but unfortunately we're one of the few houses in the neighborhood that is lacking a maple tree. I wonder if any of the neighbors will let me tap their trees?
Where to Purchase