Stafford: Time To Tap

Feb 11, 2019

Supporting your local economy; it’s a virtue many Vermonters seem to hold dear. So here’s a seasonally-appropriate tip for improving an economy so local, it’s literally in many backyards. 

Stop by the hardware store on your way home today and pick up a 5/16” drill bit. Then throw on a red-checkered flannel shirt and get outside next chance you get, because it’s time to tap whatever sugar maples you have at hand.  I’ve been making maple syrup as a hobby for five years now. And while I’m certainly no pro – it’s more like I’m on pro-bation - I’ve had enough success to offer a little advice. All it takes to get started are some empty, clean milk jugs, a drill, and those iconic little taps the pros call “spiles”. Taps come in two sizes: 7/16” and 5/16”. The smaller size causes less damage to the tree and yields the same amount of sap. It’s important to drill straight into the tree without wiggling the drill bit to get a nice clean seal around the tap so sap doesn’t leak out the edges. I use a rubber mallet to set the tap in the tree. Then I cut a 1” hole in a milk jug and hang it on the tap. On a sunny day with temps in the 40s, that gallon can overflow in less than a day, so it pays to keep an eye on it. Once you’ve gathered about 3 gallons of sap, fire it up on your stovetop in the biggest pot you have – assuming you have an exhaust fan over your stove; otherwise the walls will soon be sticky with condensation. The beauty of sugaring is there’s no recipe or tricks - it’s literally just boiling sap. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So after about 8 hours of boiling, your 3 gallons of sap will yield - wait for it now - about 1 cup. But it’s the best syrup you’ll ever taste. I promise. What really matters is that sugaring is a family-friendly activity that gets you outside, gives you a story to impress your coworkers, and might even become a lifelong hobby.