Making Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar Snow

Winter in Central New York

Winter in Freeville, New York.  A typical winter day.
Winter in Freeville, New York. A typical winter day. | Source

Making Maple Syrup - A First Experience

This story about our first experience making maple syrup is the second of the "Funny Farm Chronicle" stories about our family's antics and adventures on our Central New York farm.

I really didn't have enough to keep me occupied on those long winter days in those first years on The Funny Farm. We moved from New Jersey to very rural Central New York in the middle of the summer when gardening, kids, goats, and the house kept me busy. Throughout the summer, the kids and I enjoyed hiking our woods and fields gathering berries and apples and foraging for wild food. Encourage by my back-to-nature friends as well as Euell Gibbons' books, I experimented cooking wild foods as well as some interesting vegetarian recipes. But after the episode of cooking soybeans in The Pressure Cooker Misadventure, I had put the back-to-nature stuff on a back burner for a while.

Cabin Fever after a long winter

The exceptionally long winter of 1969 started on October 6th when we got 10" of snow. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to try out our new toboggan as well as the old wooden skis we found at an auction. The snow snowed and the wind blew, continuing through October, November, December, January… It was a very long winter! By the end of February, the novelty of snow had long worn off, and we were all feeling some cabin fever.

Oh, the snow in New York!
Oh, the snow in New York! | Source

Making Maple Syrup the Old Fashioned Way

Maple Syrup Evaporator

This is a typical outdoor evaporator pan heated with wood for making syrup.
This is a typical outdoor evaporator pan heated with wood for making syrup. | Source

Learning About Making Maple Syrup

Our little town had a nice library that we haunted for reading material. Determined to pursue my idea of living off the land, I discovered some great books, and was pleased to find detailed instructions for making maple syrup. In January and February, everything was still buried under four feet of snow, and it seemed a little premature to think about gardening or stalking the wild asparagus. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there was something we could produce while the ground was still white!

Our old farm happened to have a stand of sugar maples, and we were all eager to try something new. Making maple syrup seemed like the perfect thing.

If you live in the northeastern states where sugar maples grow, you know that March can be blustery and cold, but can also have warm sunny days. As soon as the days start to warm up, and the sap climbs up the trees, it's time to get out the sap buckets and spiles, the drill and bits, the toboggan and cooking pans.

Facts About Maple Syrup

  • Maple syrup can only be made from the sap of Sugar Maple Trees.
  • American Indians taught the settlers in northern U.S. and Canda how to make maple syrup.
  • Maple sap contains about 4% sucrose. Maple syrup is about 66% sugar.
  • It takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
  • Maple syrup is high in antioxidants.
  • Maple syrup has about 261 calories in 3 1/2 ounces, but is also high in iron, manganese and zinc.
  • Commercial sugar makers grade their syrup by color, with the lightest amber color being the most desirable Grade A syrup.


Making Maple Syrup by the Book

According to my books, early March, when nights still dipped below freezing, but daytime temperatures rose to the 40- 50°F was the perfect time to make maple syrup. The family agreed that it would be fun to try it, so we set out to find spiles (spouts put into the tapholes of the tree to collect sap) and sap buckets at our local farm store. We planned to collect the sap in buckets and cook it outdoors in the old, traditional way.

Making Maple Syrup Was A Family Affair

Unfortunately, our wood lot was nearly a quarter mile from the house at the back of our property. In early March, that quarter mile was covered in about three or four feet of snow. No problem. We tied our toboggan onto the back of our crawler tractor, loaded on the buckets, drill, spiles, kids, dog (we never went anywhere without the dog) and made our way out to the woods. There were several trees that were the required 10" or more diameter. Bill and the boys drilled the holes and set the spiles and hung our buckets. We placed covers on the pails so that dirt and squirrels didn't fall into the sap. It was exciting to watch the sap begin to drip into the buckets. Now, all we had to do was collect forty gallons of sap so that we could make a gallon of syrup.

While waiting for the sap to collect, there was much to do. Some friends who inadvertently removed much of the wallpaper in their house told us that it wasn't a good idea to try evaporating the syrup indoors. The steam and moisture can destroy the décor! So we collected firewood and built a stand for the large evaporating pan that my husband built. Next, we needed something to put the sap in when we collected it from the woods. We were able to get a 50 gallon stainless steel drum that was just perfect, and set about cleaning and disinfecting it. Now all was ready.

We waited…and waited…drip…drip…drip... The first lesson we learned is that the sap only runs during the day when temperatures rise well above freezing. By the next afternoon, the temperatures had risen and we collected about 20 gallons of sap to sled back to the house for cooking. I was pretty sure we could make the syrup by dinnertime. (Haha…)

Homemade maple syrup...mmmmm.....
Homemade maple syrup...mmmmm..... | Source

Finishing off the Maple Syrup

Few people realize how long it takes to make maple syrup. Until we started collecting and cooking the sap, we had no idea of the time it would involve. We tended the wood fire long into the night and began again the next day. When it seemed to be getting syrupy, we started testing it with a thermometer. The syrup stage on a candy thermometer is 219°F. Because the syrup would burn easily once it got close to this stage, we cooked it to about 200°F and then poured it off into a pot to finish off inside the house where we could watch it closely.

Is it syrup, yet?

How thrilled we were when the correct temperature was finally reached and we had syrup! But the syrup had a foamy, scummy look on top and dark specks were floating in it. Many old-timers traditionally dropped a slightly beaten raw egg into the syrup and cooked it for a minute. The egg seemed to gather up impurities as it floated to the top. We skimmed off the foam and egg, then strained the syrup through cheesecloth. At this point, virtually every surface and spoon in our kitchen was sticky, but we were thrilled as we bottled our 2 quarts of syrup and admired its beautiful amber color.

Maple Taffy on Snow

Pick up this wonderful sweet chewy treat with your fingers and enjoy!
Pick up this wonderful sweet chewy treat with your fingers and enjoy!

Maple Sugar Snow~ Maple Sugar Taffy

As our second batch was cooking down, we had a great idea! We would make maple sugar snow (sometimes called maple wax or maple taffy depending on the locality). To make the maple taffy, we continued cooking the maple syrup to the soft ball stage (235-240°F).  When the syrup is the correct temperature, it's poured onto a paper plate of packed snow. When syrup meets the cold, it hardens, and the sweet maple taffy is picked up and eaten. There is NOTHING else in the world like it! Many people who grew up in maple sugar country remember maple sugar snow as a childhood treat, and it sure didn't take long for it to become an annual tradition in our house.

Making Maple Syrup -A Money Making Business For Our Teens

In later years as the boys got older, we expanded our little operation and were able to make enough extra syrup so that the boys could sell some half pint containers of syrup at the local Farmer's Market. We always kept enough to use in cooking and baking, and even cooked some down into maple sugar. I still buy maple syrup for pancakes and waffles and to use in Butternut Squash Casserole and Maple Cake.

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Fond Memories of Wood Smoke and Maple Syrup

Looking out the window at the wet spring snow, I can still smell the mixture of maple and wood smoke that marked the maple syrup season in New York. Our few gallons of maple syrup cost us only a little hard work, but the sweet memories are priceless.

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Copyright @2011 Stephanie Henkel


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Comments 32 comments

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 5 years ago from The Land of Tractors

Beautiful! You shared some wonderful memories here. I enjoyed this hub so much!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks so much! Writing about the "good old days" always brings back some precious memories. Glad you enjoyed the hub.


medor profile image

medor 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

Wow, very nice... always wanted to make maple syrup... you have made such a great story about it... thanks..


Niki Hampton profile image

Niki Hampton 5 years ago from Oregon

What a great story. You are by far more ambitious than I. Of course, I don't live on a farm in Central NY either. Thanks for sharing :)


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Thank you for your comments, Medor and Niki! Making maple syrup and maple sugar snow was a lot of fun all those years ago when we were all a lot younger. I sure wish I had a gallon of that pure maple syrup now!


creativelycc profile image

creativelycc 5 years ago from Maine

Hi Stephanie,

Enjoyed reading this hub. It's sounds like you all had so much fun. Some people up here in Northern Maine, where I live now, make maple syrup. I now see why it's so expensive. I didn't realize it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. Wow!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Hi Creativelycc, We did have great fun making maple syrup, but we were a LOT younger then! Thanks for commenting on my hub.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Oh my GOSH Stephanie Henkel- this is such a great Hub! The photos are gorgeous, your information is super helpful, and I love the video and fun facts, too! Brava!

I'm just bummed I can't go out and make maple syrup right now... it sounds like so much fun!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA Author

Thanks so much Simone! Well, all you really need is a nice big sugar maple that hasn't come into bud, yet... Maybe next year? :)


ktrapp profile image

ktrapp 4 years ago from Illinois

Stephanie - That maple syrup looks so good! I can only imagine how wonderful it must taste. I'm guessing there hasn't been as much maple sugar snow made this year, with the lack of snow across the country, but what a fun and mouth-watering candy to make when the snow returns. Terrific hub.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

They make maple syrup around here and use to make it on our land. Our barn has some of the equipment in it. We maple trees all over the land.

Maple Taffy on Snow never heard of it.

Great hub.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Ktrapp - It's been a long time since we lived in NY and made maple syrup with our boys, but this time of year always makes me nostalgic for the smell of wood smoke and maple syrup cooking! The maple wax is heavenly! Thank you for stopping to read and comment!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Moonlake - Making maple syrup is labor intensive if you do it the old fashioned way as we did, but the results are delightful! The maple taffy is sometimes called maple wax or maple snow candy, and it is really a treat! Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!


livelonger profile image

livelonger 4 years ago from San Francisco

Wow! I have a mean sweet tooth, and this Hub had me salivating. There's nothing quite like the taste of maple syrup, and that maple taffy/wax sounds (and looks) so cool. The next time we're up in the Northeast in the winter, we're going to have to try this.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Livelonger - If you're traveling through the Northeast in March, look for Maple Festivals in New York State, Vermont or other New England States. You're sure to find a place to sample new maple syrup and maybe you'll be lucky enough to try maple taffy, too!


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 4 years ago from George, South Africa

Your hub is as sweet as Maple syrup.

Now that I have learned the process to make the syrup I can appreciate why it is so expensive to buy.

Good memories for you!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

LadyLyell - I do have some precious memories of our family making maple syrup! Although the big producers have automated the sap collection and cooking process to some extent, making maple syrup is still an intensive process with a very short season. It's expensive, but, in my opinion, pure maple syrup is worth the price!


LadyLyell profile image

LadyLyell 4 years ago from George, South Africa

To say that maple syrup is worth the price is an understatement!

I imagined the process was as you explained by the big producers.

Oh dear, I do love nice food!


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

My cousin used to make his own maple syrup every year until he passed away. It was so good. I've not had Maple Syrup snow since I was a child, but I do remember how good that was :) Really enjoyed your story.


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Just Ask Susan - Although it's been years since we made our own maple syrup, I still crave it. Pancakes and waffles don't seem worth eating without real maple syrup! Thanks for stopping by to share your memories of maple syrup time!


starstream profile image

starstream 4 years ago from Northern California

I have a friend who talks about some of the memories of her childhood which include making maple sugar syrup taffy. I enjoyed reading about this subject and enjoyed your pictures as I can hardly imagine how tasty and exciting this was for the kids!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Starstream - When we did this with our children, it was a new experience for my husband and me, too. It was all fun and very exciting to make that first batch of syrup into maple taffy! Mmmm...it's just the right time of year now, and I know some lucky children are getting a taste of this delicious treat!

Thanks for stopping in to read and comment!


Flickr 4 years ago

This is a great hub. I love maple syrup and I am going to give maple taffy a go. As a kid I use to poor maple syrup into my milk, until I realized how expensive it was one day. Socially shared.


LaThing profile image

LaThing 4 years ago from From a World Within, USA

I lived in Maine for several years, in the boonies! Fond memories of maple sugar snow, and picnics in the snow ....... Thanks for sharing


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Flickr - We never appreciated how costly maple syrup was until we had to buy it! Now, we dole it out a little more carefully than we did when we made our own maple syrup! Thanks for commenting and sharing!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

LaThing - Growing up in the boonies had its advantages, didn't it? The springtime snows were perfect for making syrup as well as many other outdoor activities. Thanks for sharing your memories!


flashmakeit profile image

flashmakeit 4 years ago from usa

Oh I like syrup and pancakes. It takes a strong willed person to collect in the cold woods. You where even smart enough to sell it at the market. Did you have to make labels for it to?


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA Author

Actually, we were able to purchase cute cans printed with maple sugaring scenes, so we didn't make labels for the syrup we sold. I do miss that maple syrup on my pancakes, though!


Jane Holmes 3 years ago

What a great hub! I enjoyed it!


Jane Holmes 3 years ago

Have been looking over your hubs. you have some great ones here! Keep up the good work!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA Author

Hi Jane, Thanks for stopping in to read my article on making maple syrup! It was an activity that the whole family enjoyed when we lived in central New York - and I dearly miss that wonderful smell of wood smoke and syrup cooking! Thanks for stopping in to comment!


Jane Holmes 3 years ago

You are most welcome. Its a nostalgic subject for me, also.

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