Sugaring the Old Time Way
by Aaron M. Shell of Burnsville, VA
In the Spring of 1997 we got a notion to do a little syrup making. We had done a little sugaring with our neighbor back in 1992 or 1993, can’t remember. But anyway, we used a cast-iron kettle over a fire. Needless to say it was slow. So when 1997 came on the scene, we figured it was about time to have some more of that tasty homemade stuff, so we made us a little nicer setup. It’s made out of an old 275 gallon oil tank. We took and stood it on it’s side. Then we cut out the one end. We had an old wood stove sitting around, so it came into the picture when we cut the back off and stuck it on the end of the tank that we cut out. Then we cut the tank off a little over half-way up. That is where the pan sits. We braced up the inside of the top edge from side to side and all the way around with angleiron. This gave the pan some support. We also made a grate system out of some flat steel and sheet metal. We put this in the tank a little under half way up. This gave us a 15″ space from the grate up to the bottom of the pan. This is where the fire is put. We put fire-brick up the sides to help hold the heat in. We also cut a door under the woodstove end below the grate so we could clean out the ashes. By the way, it’s wood fired and not efficient, but with piles of slab wood that comes from operating a saw mill, that’s not a problem.
Now about the pan. Our pan is made of stainless steel with measurements of 6′ long by 28″ wide and 9 3/4″ deep. It holds 75 gallons to the brim. With about fourteen square foot of flat surface area, it will only do 15 to 20 gallons an hour. It’s not as fast as we’d like it to be and with the amount of sap we get, it’s “Pssst, it’s your shift. Hey, did you hear me? He’s waiting on you.” Running three hour shifts through the night gets tiresome. We had a smaller pan built that we use on a gas stove to finish off the syrup in. By doing this we can control the heat better because finishing off the syrup is the most important and vital step of the whole procedure of making good syrup. This smaller pan, also made of stainless steel, holds 15 gallons and with a ball valve in the one corner for an outlet, it makes a great take-off pan.
So now about tapping. Tapping (the way we do it) is done by drilling a 7/16 hole in the trees with a brace and bit and pounding in one of the old standard galvanized taps. For pails we use the regular old plastic five gallon buckets with their lids. We thought about trying to use the pipe line system, but the places that we tap on, the trees are scattered helter-skelter, so that way of tapping went out the window. We have been tapping on the neighboring farms because we have few trees ourselves. We put out about 300 taps each year, but we would like to expand. I’ll tell you one thing, tapping is a lot of arm and leg work, that’s for sure.
Then the sap gathering. When we gather sap, we just throw a tank on the back of the truck, pile on and away we go. We have two teams of oxen that we want to use. We tried using them before, but the oxen were a little small and we did not have the right equipment.
Making syrup our way sure is a pile of hard back-breaking work, but it’s well worth it all when you come in from doing chores and sit down at the dining table and pour the hard work out of the jug onto a pile of steaming flapjacks, and satisfy the roaring sounds that come from an empty belly.
It’s a good thing syrup making comes in early spring, because by the time summer rolls around we’re in full swing doing ox powered hay making, a little logging, raising poultry on a small scale and milking cows (by hand) and raising calves – and the list goes on.
So by taking a couple weary weeks and doing some syrup making, we get to enjoy the sweet treat that comes from (Sugaring the Old Time Way).