Tree Tapping and Maple Syrup Infusion
Syrup season has begun. We tapped the first trees on February 21, 2021, just to have a start. The tapping begins with five to ten trees along the main road where we can monitor the first sap run. This will vary with the weather, but the start is usually the first or second week in March, although we have had a good sap production in late February, in the past.
As I have stated before, every year is different and 2021 is no exception. The Tomahawk area has had a very mild winter temperature-wise, and very little snow until about February 10, when temperatures dropped to below 0 and continued going as low as -35. Temperatures, in my opinion, make this winter’s weather pretty normal.
To my surprise there was a good sap run on March 6 and 7, providing 130 gallons for our first pickup. Temperatures increased on March 8 and 9, which provided even more sap.
The first cooking and evaporating started Monday, March 9. The first collection had two and a half percent sugar content, which is normal, and yielded high-quality, light-colored syrup.
The next really big sap run was the end of the week of March 15 when we collected about 500 gallons.
Saturday, March 20, was the first bottling day with 21 gallons which filled almost 300 containers of various shapes and sizes. This year was especially fun because grandchildren and their friends were old enough to be able to be a big help. They were able to do a lot of collecting, helping around the sap house, bottling, and cleaning up.
I did notice that there was an increase in the cost of food required to feed 11- to 13-year-olds. It seemed like they were constantly consuming hot dogs cooked in sap, and maple syrup on buns or hard rolls were the most popular.
This year our goal is to tap 200 trees and end up with 40 to 50 gallons of finished syrup.
Click here to review our 2019 edition, which explains the old-fashioned traditional syrup methods that we use.
Tapping the trees is something foresters take for granted because they have been trained about tree identification for years. It occurs to me that for many people it can be quite difficult to distinguish tree species in late winter and early spring when leaves are not out. Basswood, oak, or ash sap just does not seem to have a sweet flavor or as much sugar and yet these trees are usually mixed with maple in Wisconsin hardwood forest.
As you can see, the tree trunks are quite similar with diameters over 18 inches and with branches that create a spreading crown. These trees produce the most sap—sometimes as much as 2 to 3 gallons or more on a good day. Here, Todd Fredrickson is standing by a soft maple.
The sugar maple centered in this photo has the spreading crown that indicates a heavy sap producer.
Trees like this one Jennie Frederickson is standing next to can sure look like sugar maple to the untrained eye. This is white ash.
In this issue I want to let you know about the latest idea in the maple syrup business: infusion. This has actually been around for a while and as the name implies vendors are trying various ideas to enhance maple flavors. I have heard many including bacon, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, vanilla, chile pepper, and more.
Today, I believe, the most popular flavor is bourbon and as you might imagine requires bourbon and bourbon barrels. The process takes four to six months and I have been told that it is very difficult to obtain consistent flavoring. This might have to do with the difference in the white oak barrels or the individual batches of maple syrup.
Depending on the flavor and type of infusion it looks like the finished product sells for substantially more than traditional maple syrup.
Personally, I enjoy maple syrup pure and bourbon on ice. I am sure everyone has their own favorite.
We always like to leave you with a good maple recipe, so please consider trying the maple syrup lemon vinaigrette. We like this one a lot.
Have a good spring!
Ed and Mary Lee
Here are some additional 2021 pictures:
Maple Syrup Lemon Vinaigrette
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 2½ to 3 Tbsps fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1½ tsp fine kosher or sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 2 to 3 Tbsps real maple syrup
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined. You may also put ingredients in a Mason jar and then cover and shake to combine.