I saw a friend’s post on Facebook yesterday morning about free maple sap on offer, and in a matter of hours I was there with jars and growlers to fill, ending up with 2 1/2 gallons for my very own. Now given the 40:1 reduction ratio to make syrup, that wasn’t going to yield a whole lot. So I thought of other things to make with it instead, treating the sap as an ingredient. After tasting some partly-reduced stuff from the big pot on top of his wood stove–which had a profound vanilla flavor–I figured that letting it cook down a bit before using it would make the sap more useful for what I had in mind.
It’s water-clear, with a delicate maple flavor and faint sweetness. Very nice to drink by the large cold glassful.
So into our own big pot it went, and began to reduce. At about the halfway point, I removed some and set it aside for other nefarious purposes to be named later. The rest bubbled merrily, and filled the house with a divine aroma. It’s honestly one step removed from magic that one can drill a hole in a tree, catch the clear liquid that comes out, boil it down, and end up with one of the most sublime sweets in the world. And when there’s a first grader involved, demonstrating this process is essentially the same as telling them that crack grows on trees. The clamor for another trip to the sap’s source was interrupted only by more fervent clamoring to check the syrup’s progress for the millionth time and discuss exactly when and how much would be consumed and at what stages until every drop was gone and then when could we go get some more sap and do it again.
Given the small amount involved, we voted to reduce it past syrup to candy. I poured the thick, sticky goodness into little bowls to harden (and should really have either buttered them first or just poured it onto parchment instead) and then we dug out the rounded sweets with spoons and moaned with delight. As with so many other things, homemade is a world removed from all but the very best local products. And the possibilities for bespoke viscosities along the spectrum from sap to syrup suited to different culinary applications have got me as excited as the narrator of that great old hobo song (or a six-year-old crackhead).