By Katie Lofrano
It’s not often that a hobby yields delicious results, but for a local couple, enjoying the finished product is only part of the fun.
MaryAnn and Bill McMullen of Franklin Township make homemade syrup every year as a hobby of theirs.
They usually start in the middle of March, and can collect sap for about six to eight weeks, although they usually do not collect for that long.
MaryAnn grew up in Massachusettes, and saw a lot of places making syrup. Since that time, she had always wanted to try making syrup on her own.
The McMullens give away their syrup as gifts, and also use it themselves.
When they started producing syrup, they received most of their syrup-making supplies from a friend who now no longer makes syrup, but still comes over to help once in a while. They now get all their other supplies online.
The McMullens think this is their seventh year making syrup, but said they are not sure because they have lost count.
There is a time-consuming process to syrup making, and there are are a lot of different steps to it.
It takes a large amount of hard work and careful handling to make even a small amount of syrup.
Forty gallons of sap equals only one gallon of syrup. The McMullens usually make about six gallons of syrup a year.
The couple starts every year by marking all the maple trees in the fall, so they are easier to distinguish in the winter.
In the middle of March, they drill a hole about one inch into the trunks of the maple trees. They replace the hole with a tool that has a special spout that allows the sap to pour out.
On this tool, there is a hook on the bottom where they hang either a bucket or a bag to collect all the sap. Bags keep the sap cleaner by keeping out bugs and other particles.
MaryAnn said they can’t be exact on how long it takes to fill a bucket or bag. They said it depends on the amount of sunlight, or if the weather is really cold, the sap will sometimes freeze.
When the bucket or bag becomes full, they will dump the sap into a larger bin that sits by the trees. They cover the bin with a sheet so the sap does not get heated by the sun and spoil.
When the bin contains a lot of sap, or when it is to the point where it needs to be taken out or it will spoil, it is transported to the fire.
The fire is surrounded by bricks to keep in the heat and works like a stove. On the top, there is a pan where the sap boils and gets hot, and a tin bucket that pre-heats the sap before it goes into the pan. People making syrup do not put cold sap into boiling hot sap.
A lot of the sap will evaporate when it is heated, so they have to refil the pan many times in order to get enough to make syrup. The sap will create a foamy looking substance on top of it when it gets extremely hot. They have to skim this off with a skimmer.
The McMullens check on the sap every so often to make sure the sap is boiling properly. This process is not one that would be easy to do inside a home, as it would make everything inside become sticky.
When the sap is almost done, it is heated until it is only about one inch high, so it does not scorch. At this point, they need to work fast because the more syrupy it gets, the more delicate it becomes. It usually takes about two full days for enough to bring into the house with the size pan and tools they have.
They pour the sap into a large pot on their stove and heat it very carefully. They know when it’s done by using a hydrometer, which measures the density of the liquid.
The hydrometer looks like a thermometer, but has a ball that will float in it to let you know when it is just right. The hydrometer will also stand up straight in the liquid as another sign.
When it is ready, they pour the syrup through a filter device that has a bowl on the bottom to collect the syrup once it goes through it.
Then, they take the syrup and pour it into jars, and it is finally finished homemade syrup.
The first cycle is a cleaner syrup, but it does not taste as much like maple as the cycles after it do.
The McMullens had a maple syrup event auction where people came to their home and learned how to make syrup, with them walking participants through everything step-by-step. The couple had a dinner for everyone after with everything homemade.
The McMullens say that, “Making syrup is a lot of fun, and we look forward to it every year. It is also something to look forward to, because it is the beginning of spring.