Finding food in the wild is an important, multi-faceted wilderness lesson that you must learn for your survival and well-being. But it’s not just about fishing or hunting—taking advantage of natural resources involves extracting value from plants and trees, too.
An important calorie source that some people take for granted is maple syrup. It is a natural sweetener that contains minerals, antioxidants, and beneficial compounds that the body needs to remain healthy. It is easy to make and has a very long shelf life.
Learning how to make maple syrup is a skill you can add to your arsenal of wilderness expertise. Let’s get started!
How to Make Maple Syrup: Tools and Materials
- A drill bit with 7/16-inch diameter
- Outdoor turkey fryer or pan with high sides
- Thermometer (calibrated to at least 230 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Propane burner, camp stove, rocket stove, or another heat source
- Large pan (at least 50-gallon capacity)
- Metal or plastic spouts (food grade or sterilized in a bleach solution)
- Storage containers
- Food grade filters such as cheesecloth, orlon, or clean wool
- Canning jars, syrup jars, or mason jar
- Gallon buckets and covers
Use only food-grade containers. Avoid using galvanized buckets that have held foods with strong flavors and smells that will interfere with the natural maple syrup flavor.
Prepare your tools and clean containers before getting started with our lesson on how to make maple syrup.
What Trees Are Good for Making Maple Syrup?
Before you learn how to make maple syrup, you need to learn how to identify the right trees to tap.
Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind:
- The tree must be at least 10 inches in diameter.
- Choose a tree with opposite branching (i.e., with smaller branches growing from the stem directly across from one another).
- The right time to collect tree sap is when nighttime temperatures drop below freezing, and daytime temperatures rise above freezing.
- Use one spile for trees that are 12 to 18 inches in diameter. Trees that are 19 to 25 inches wide can handle two spiles. Trees 26 inches or broader can handle up to three spiles.
- Stop collecting sap if the tree buds have started to open.
The Right Trees to Tap and How to Identify Them
Did you know that you can prepare homemade maple syrup from the sap of any fruit tree? However, maple trees are the best choice because of their higher sap sugar content.
Read on for an in-depth guide on the maple tree varieties that are your best bet at collecting genuine maple sap. Identification is a crucial step before you learn how to make maple syrup.
Sugar Maple Trees
Sugar maples have the highest sugar concentration, so they should be your go-to if you want the sweetest and most real maple syrup flavor. They have a water-to-sugar ratio of 40:1 and are most commonly used in commercial maple syrup production.
What Part of the World is the Sugar Maple Tree Found In?
You will find sugar maple trees in New England, mid-Atlantic states, extending southwest through central New Jersey to the Appalachian Mountains, and south from the western border of North Carolina to the southern border of Tennessee.
Tips to Identify the Tree
- Sugar maple trees are between 60 to 75 feet tall.
- They have a pointed dark brown bud at the end of their branches.
- The leaves are five-lobed and broader at the base.
- Sugar maple bark is a dark gray with furrowed ridges.
- Sugar maple trees have winged fruits in a “U” shape.
Red Maple Trees
Also known as swamp maple or scarlet maple, red maple is the second most common species of maple trees. It is the second-best option to tap into learning how to make maple syrup.
What Part of the World is the Red Maple Tree Found In?
Red maples are native to the eastern part of North America.
Tips to Identify the Tree
- Red maple buds are not as pointed as those of the sugar maple. They are deep red and have fewer scales.
- Red maple varieties grow up to 40 to 60 feet tall.
- Red maple leaves have 3 to 5 major lobes with serrated margins.
Silver Maple Trees
Silver maple is also known as creek maple, silverleaf maple, soft maple, large maple, water maple, swamp maple, and white maple.
They are commonly used for flooring, paper making, and firewood.
What Part of the World is the Silver Maple Tree Found In?
Silver maples are common in the eastern United States and southern and southeastern Canada.
Tips to Identify the Tree
- Silver maples have a grayish bark that flakes off to reveal brown spots.
- Silver maple leaves are sometimes hairy and more deeply lobed than those of the red maple. They also have a white or silvery backside.
- Broken silver maple twigs have an unpleasant odor.
- Silver maple trees are 50 to 80 feet tall.
Black Maple Trees
Black maple is relatively rare and often used in furniture and flooring. But you can also tap into this maple species to learn how to make maple syrup.
What Part of the World is the Black Maple Tree Found In?
Black maples are native to eastern North America.
Tips to Identify the Tree
- Black maple trees grow 70 to 110 feet tall.
- Black maple leaves are orangish, three-lobed, downy, and drooping.
Steps for How to Make Maple Syrup in the Wilderness
Making maple syrup is all about executing the steps correctly and in the proper order. Here is everything you need to know to learn how to make maple syrup.
Step 1: Tapping a Maple Tree
First, collect the maple sap that you can turn into syrup. Choose a spot on the trunk to insert the drill, at least two feet above the ground. Insert the drill about two inches into the bark—at an upward angle to ensure the maple sap flows easily.
Once you’ve drilled the hole, insert the spile or spout. Secure it by lightly tapping a hammer.
Unless you are tapping tree diameters above 20 inches, only use one spile per tree.
Step 2: Collecting the Sap
Collecting the sap is the next step in learning how to make maple syrup.
Hang a collection bucket on the spile. Cover the sap bucket to keep out debris that will contaminate the maple sap.
In the right conditions, maple sap will flow continuously for four to six weeks.
Collect the sap once a day and refrigerate immediately. Begin the boiling process within a week of collection—the earlier, the better.
Step 3: Processing the Sap
The next step in this how to make maple syrup guide involves boiling the sap into syrup.
You can begin boiling the maple extract right away and keep adding to the pot as you collect it. Experts say that boiling sap right away is the best choice.
Next, you must calculate how much maple extract you need to get a certain amount of syrup. Take the number 87 and divide it by the sugar percentage you want to achieve. This will give you the ratio of sap to syrup.
For example, commercial maple syrup has a sugar concentration of 2%—a sap to sugar ratio of 43.5 to 1. This means you need 43.5 gallons of raw sap to make one gallon of syrup.
If you are practicing how to make maple syrup, boil the bulk of the sap outdoors. The process releases a lot of steam and sugar, which can stick to your walls and peel your paint. You can take the boiling process indoors when you have two gallons of sap left.
The boiling process is completed once the mix has boiled down to one gallon of syrup and its sugar content is between 66.0% to 68.9%. The temperature of the syrup will be 7 degrees above the boiling point of water at your altitude.
Next, filter the syrup through clean wool, orlon, sieve, or cheesecloth.
Then, can it while it is hot. The high temperature will create a vacuum and seal the bottle completely.
Step 4: Storing the Maple Syrup
The final step in learning how to make maple syrup is storing it safely.
Make sure to refrigerate or store your finished syrup in a dry and cool place.
Once you’ve opened the container with the finished product and begun using the tasty syrup, keep it refrigerated at all times.
Wrapping Up How to Make Maple Syrup
This is all you need to know to learn how to make maple syrup, a natural, nutrition-rich food. You just need to collect the best tools and find the best maple trees to begin the process!
You can visit the Survival World page to learn more tips and tricks to take advantage of the natural resources around you.