Maple syrup season is nearly finished for us. Today is the last day. We hope to gather enough sap to add to what is already in the boiler to make a gallon of syrup. That will give us three gallons for the year. We would have had four if I hadn’t burned the first batch. Didn’t make it down to the maple orchard in time and the syrup boiled too low and turned to caramel in the evaporator pan. Oh well, can’t cry over burned syrup.
The two samples above are from April 5 on the right and the 8th on the left. The color is a lovely medium amber. The body is thick, the way we like it. No runny syrup for our pancakes! The 4/5 syrup has settled out all the maple sand to the bottom of the jar, while the 4/8 still has small amounts of either suspended sand or sugar crystals making it cloudy. I’m hoping it’s maple sand since that is an easier problem to deal with. Sugar crystals mean the syrup is too concentrated and it will be prone to forming large crystals on the bottom in storage.
Maple sand is the bane of syrup makers. It is the naturally occurring minerals in the sap that the tree needs to live and is comprised mainly of calcium. Maple sand does not affect the flavor of the product in any way while in storage. It is just ugly to look at and grainy in the mouth. No one wants maple sand on their pancakes so it must be removed from the syrup. During the syrup making process in large evaporator systems, the sand forms sludge on the equipment that must be periodically cleaned away. In our operation, the sand makes its presence known right after the syrup is bottled. As the syrup cools to a certain temperature, the minerals are precipitated from the solution as tiny crystals. These slowly settle out to the bottom of the container.
Our syrup is always filtered twice, but we rarely clear all the sand with filtering. I run the sap through a strainer as I draw it off the evaporator to bring up to the house to finish. This clears out any debris collected with the sap such as tiny bits of moss or bark from the trees. Then the syrup is strained again right before placing in the glass canning jars. This catches some of the sand that has started to form. The bulk of the sand precipitates after it cools for a couple minutes in the jars. Syrup should be sealed before the temperature drops to 190 F from the 219 F it reached when it became syrup. Allowing it to cool too much while exposed to the air will let mold or bacteria form in the sealed jars.
I’ve read two theories about what causes maple sand to precipitate. The first is that this happens when the syrup reaches a certain density and the other theory is cooling causes the crystal formation. I suspect it is due to both causes. The best method I’ve found to remove the sand is sedimentation. The syrup is allowed to sit in glass jars for several months. When I’m ready to bottle for gifts, I open the glass jars and pour off the syrup, leaving the maple sand behind. The syrup is then heated to 190 F, poured into new, fancy plastic syrup containers and sealed. For home use we just pour from the glass jars until we reach the sediment. Then we enjoy it on pancakes, waffles, French toast, oatmeal, and my in favorite, apple pudding.