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Maple tapping boil down party celebrates syrup-making season

KPCW | Amber Johnson

A community event recently celebrated a sweet maple tapping season at Wasatch Mountain State Park.

Aspiring hobbyists gathered for a BYOP – Bring Your Own Pancake – maple tapping “boil down party” at the state park last weekend.

Many of them attended the park’s introductory workshop in February where they learned to tap sap from Boxelder and Bigtooth maple trees.(See the full story here).

Fluctuating temperatures above and below freezing create the pressure that causes sap to rise and flow from trees. Once the sap is collected, the fun begins, USU Extension Assistant Professor Wesley Crump said. “So that's where that's where we're at right now. We collected sap. And, essentially to make maple syrup, you just boil the crap out of this sap.”

Amber Johnson | KPCW

When sap comes out of a tree it contains only 1-3% sugar content plus lots of minerals and water. Generally, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup so the process takes time and energy. The key to a good boil is to cook the sap outdoors over sustained heat, like a fire or propane stove.

The syrup is done when it reaches a temperature of 7 degrees above the boiling point of the water. A tool such as a hydrometer or refractometer, which measure the relative density of liquids, should be used because it’s a goldilocks process: if the syrup is boiled too little, it will be prone to spoilage and if boiled too long, it can crystallize. 

PJ Abraham

So, what was the verdict of the taste test? Annie Hayes and Wayson Foi brought their own pancakes to find out. “It's not super sweet like the store-bought stuff and it has more of a woodsy taste. It tastes really good–we definitely like it better than the store maple stuff.”

That’s not surprising because that “store maple stuff” is often corn syrup combined with artificial maple flavoring.

For PJ Abraham’s first season of maple tapping, he collected 25 gallons of sap. He is a forester so found the whole process fascinating and time-consuming. “It took me anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to boil down one gallon of sap. So I was in at least 25 hours right there.”

Was it worth it? His wife said the sweet nectar had a complex flavor with notes of butterscotch, creamy butter and maple. Abraham even made labels for his sweet nectar and bottled it up.

“She asked how fast I'm eating it or if I'm selling it or whatnot.," he said. "And I told her I'm not even letting my kids eat it.”

Because when that liquid gold turns out just right, the reward is especially sweet.