A mile or so from us, in the suburb of Maplewood, there is a yard with half dozen or so maple trees. Each spring, early in spring, you’ll find buckets with tubes or blue plastic bags hanging from those trees. It’s sugaring season. It’s that time of the year where tree sap flows relatively freely. Capture enough of the watery sap, boil it down — a lot — and you will end up with maple syrup.
Larger operations will skip the buckets and bags and go straight to stringing tubing from their tree, through the sugar bush to the sugar house. These operations may also employ vacuum suction in the tubing to draw out even more sap.
Sadly, we are lacking in many areas for the production of maple syrup. Our little acre-plus in St. Paul has many trees – mulberries, Siberian elms, hackberries, buckthorns, pines, cedars, cottonwoods, pears, apples – crab & regular, cherries, plums and black walnuts – but not a single maple tree of any variety. No silver maples, no red maples, not even a boxelder tree, but more importantly, no sugar maples. We also are lacking in having a dedicated sugar house; we have an old garage at the back of our property, but the lack of maple trees kind preempts the need to turn that into a sugar house.
I have written, before, about our black walnut trees, and I often try to think of interesting uses or benefits for these great trees. Last year, I stumbled across a blog post on tapping black walnut trees for their sap. It was not spring when I came across the post, but the idea seemed very intriguing, very simple. It is exactly like tapping sugar maples for their sap.
A few weeks ago, spring seemed like it was about to arrive. News articles about the pending sugaring season started to come to my attention. The walnut syrup posting came to mind.
A fleet supply store chain, here in the upper Midwest, had recently advertised the sale of beekeeping equipment; I wondered if they also carried sugaring supplies. The nearest one of their stores is about 20 minutes away; it’s always fun to wander around the store. A hop in the car, and wander around the store yield a roll of blue plastic sugaring bags and the metal hanging brackets. Throw in a couple of taps and we were set.
This being a bit of an experiment, we decided to only tap one tree. I picked the largest walnut we have that is outside of the dogs’ fence – we had visions of our coonhound running the yard with a blue plastic bag full of sap dangling from his clenched jaw; he has enough energy without sugar water. Outside the fence seemed safer.
I punched two ½ inch holes into the tree; one higher and deeper than the other. A few taps on the taps with a hammer and I hung the bags on the tree.
…and we waited.
The weather was great during this time; you want above freezing temperatures followed by below freezing. That’s exactly what happened. High 30s during the day, and high 20s at night.
The bag hanging from the higher, deeper tap began to accumulate liquid. The bag on the lower, shallower tap did nothing – a few black flies ended up in the bag.
When there was a bit less than a gallon of sap in the bag, I decided to boil it down and see what I could produce.
The sap was strained through cheesecloth to remove any insects that had been unfortunate enough to get stuck there before the nightly temperature drop. The clean liquid was then placed in an enameled cast iron pot and that was placed on the stove over medium-low heat.
We waited…periodically stirring the boiling liquid.
In the end, we ended up boiling down the near gallon to about a ½ cup of syrup. Poured over hot waffled with a bit of butter – the syrup was delicious. It was much more nuttier than maple syrup.