There are two ways to get real, genuine maple syrup here in Maine. One is to wander over to Hannaford or Shaw’s, scoot down the pancake aisle (every grocery store needs a pancake aisle), and fork over about a third of your kid’s college fund for a pint of the translucent, golden-brown miracle fluid in a bottle shaped like a maple leaf. This method works fine if you are Stephen King or someone working in management at one of our fine casinos, but if you are like me (broke), you’ll find yourself tempted to take advantage of the unique arboration of our region and make your own Goddamn syrup.
Well, the time is nigh (“nigh” is an old expression meaning, “a short period of nice spring days and nights a little below freezing, just long enough to trick you into thinking spring is on the way”). While the pros might spend thousands to buy all the best equipment, you can make your own syrup “the old fashioned way” (cheap). Let’s get started.
The first thing you need to do is find some maple trees. If the nearest trees are not on land you happen to own, don’t worry. Just write the words “surprise gift for [name of landowner], don’t tell!” on each sap bucket. Don’t actually write the words “name of landowner” on the bucket, you jackass! God, what is the matter with you? Anyways, now, if he finds your shit in his woods, he’ll think you’re finally trying to make up for that time you pissed on the door handle of his truck. Ha!
Next, you will need to tap the trees. Drill a hole in the tree about five feet off the ground, with the hole inclined slightly so that the sap will escape more readily. After you’ve broken off your drill bit in the hole, get over to the hardware store and buy a few more 3/8″ bits. While you drill your next hole, be sure to approach the tree with the appropriate expression of respect and reverence in consideration of the sacrifice you are asking of this magnificent specimen of life (yelling “fuck you, tree” should do it).
Once you’ve drilled a hole, you’ll notice that all kinds of precious sap is already spewing out of the tree. Jesus, don’t just stand there! Time’s a-wastin’! Grab a hammer and install a tap in the tree. Careful! Don’t jam it in there like some porn star. You just made this hole, y’know!
There is a lot of debate as to what kind of tap you should use. Something like this should do just fine:
Next, cut a small hole near the top of a milk jug. Jam the milk jug onto the tap, grunting violently until the damn thing agrees to cooperate and stay on there, or until the neighbor calls the police to report you as a tree pervert, whichever comes first. If you are concerned about the jug staying in place once it’s full of sap, wrap a bungee cord (preferably an old, frayed one) around it and the tree.
Now do the same thing to about 50 other trees. The jugs will fill up in less than a day, but you’ll forget to go check them, so you need to tap a lot of trees to make sure you wind up with enough sap. On the rare occasions when you do wander back out into the woods, dump the jugs full of sap into a relatively clean bucket (try not to use the same one you use for oil changes).
Once you’ve collected enough sap, store it in the shed for a month or two until you can get a couple of days off from work, or until you finally get tired of watching all those A-Team reruns on the Internet.
Go get some cinder blocks and stack them up into a half-circle. Take a barbecue grate and place over the top of the cinder blocks to make a fire pit. Pour some sap into a large, flat pan on the grate, then start up a great big fire under that sonofabitch. Pour some more sap into a large pot – this will heat more slowly, but can serve as your “warming pot.” When the pan boils low, pour warm sap from the pot into the big pan, then replenish the pot with cold sap, being careful not to taint it with any of the tobacco juices dripping and spattering out of your mouth.
Continue this process for about 14 hours, occasionally dipping a metal strainer into the boiling sap to scoop out bits of ash, bark, hair, regurgitated Slim Jims, or other debris that will naturally find its way in there during the process.
By now, your 50 gallons of sap should have boiled all the way down to about four tablespoons, and it will have thickened from the consistency of water to the consistency of really dirty water. It’s time to wrap a coffee filter over the top of a jar, and pour that shit into the jar just as slick as a dog turd.
You’ll know you’re done when the jar fills up or when you suddenly realize the cheap Aunt Jemima store brand knock-off syrup actually don’t taste so bad, once you get used to it.