Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maple Sugaring in Edmonton: The Numbers

The sap run ended a couple weeks ago, and all my sap has been processed into syrup. I described the tapping process here. The first tree I tapped actually forks into two large trunks. Since both trunks are more than ten inches across, I put one tap in each. Part way through the sap run, I realized that I have another maple tree on the other side of my yard, so in total I had three taps.

Now I'll fill you in on the collection and processing of the sap. First, you have to walk through a lot of deep, slushy snow:

Here is the forked tree, on the east side of my backyard.

And here is the tree I missed at first, tucked away in the soggy southwest corner of the yard.

The buckets had to be emptied every day. Some days they would have overflowed if they hadn't been emptied. Even during periods of low flow, it's best to empty every day to maintain the freshness and cleanliness of the sap.

Sap flow started very high, then tapered quickly (daily sap quantities are listed below). Here is a shot from the first full day of the run, when I got about 4 L from the eastern tree.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the sap itself is delicious, even without being reduced to syrup. If you are only tapping one tree, you might get more bang for your buck by drinking a few litres of sap instead of reducing to get a cup or so of syrup. Something to consider.

Strain the sap to remove any debris and store in the fridge.

Once you have collected enough sap to fill a stock pot (10 L in my case), boil the sap over medium high heat. I was cautioned to do this outside, as allegedly a sticky residue can build up on surfaces if done indoors. I ignored this caution and boiled the sap on my stove with the vent hood running. No residue appeared, perhaps because I was processing a relatively small amount of sap.

As soon as the sap is brought to a simmer, it turns from clear to cloudy. If you continue to boil the sap down you get a very murky syrup that looks a lot like honey:

If you want clear syrup, you have to remove the "sugar sand," the calcium compound that is clouding the liquid. Lisa and I simply stopped boiling partway through the reduction, let the sugar sand settle to the bottom of the pot, then decanted the syrup and continued boiling. My understanding is that the sugar sand is not harmful in any way; it is removed simply to clarify the syrup. Here is a picture of some of the sugar sand we filtered out:

If you are diligent with your decanting and filtering, you will end with a more familiar looking, clear syrup.

I didn't reduce my syrup to the same thickness as commercial syrup. Besides being less sweet, the flavour of my syrup is much different than store-bought: there is a very pronounced fruitiness, one that I would associate with a fine honey.

The Numbers

Below are the quantities of sap I collected each day. Note how the flow starts very high, then tapers to almost nothing in a matter of days. At this point I thought that the run had ended, and I stopped checking my buckets. Then about a week later I was in my backyard and noticed that the buckets were overflowing. Some of the sap was lost, but I don't know exactly how much. Also, I don't know if the break in the flow had to do with the weather (it was very cold and overcast on those days), or if it is part of a regular cycle in the run. Interestingly, the second wave of the run produced noticeably sweeter sap.

The maple syrup article in On Food and Cooking said that sugar maple sap is typically reduced by about 40 times, and birch sap by about 100 times. Having a maple tree, but not a sugar maple, I was expecting to reduce somewhere between 40 and 100 times. I ended up reducing by only 29, though, as I mentioned above, my final product was not as thick and sweet as commercial syrup.

Tapping the trees took about ten minutes. Emptying and straining the sap took about ten minutes each day of the run. Boiling the sap down took a few hours every few days of the run, but obviously you don't have to stand over the pot and watch the liquid reduce. In the end I got a litre and a half of syrup, which I suspect will amply garnish our pancakes for a year.

For the longest time I thought that there are few maples around Edmonton, and that the ones that are here are no good for syrup. I was wrong. Now as I walk through my back alley in McKernan, I see suckering maples everywhere. Many of them are too small to tap, but there is still a huge amount of "untapped' sweetness in our city. Maples, like caragana, are much more common in the older communities of Edmonton than in the newer suburbs, as they are considered "messy" plants, what with all the suckering and keys...

Next winter I'll put a small ad in my community newspaper to see if there's anyone interested in learning to do this. If you have a mature maple (or birch) tree in your yard, here are some resources for you.

  • A great website with lots of detailed information:
  • Mack, Norman (ed.) Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Our Traditional Skills. ©1981. The Reader's Digest Association (Canada) Ltd. Montreal, QB.
  • Or contact me through Button Soup


  1. Hi, Allan,
    Cool that you kept such an accurate record of how much sap you got and end result in reducing it. Sorry I didn't keep such accurate records on the birch syrup. It is great that yo are blogging again. I've missed it.

  2. Incredible results. Great to know the liquid is delicious, too. What was the mouth feel of it like? Sinclair Phillips said that Maple Syrup Water has a little bit of an oily feel. Just curious. I am unduly impressed. Bravo to you!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. Im doing a project and youre the only person ive found who has been meticulous enough to actually keep a record