Bill and Valorie Dick’s love of gardening and preserving the food they grow has gotten a lot sweeter.
The Waynesboro couple is starting the third year of turning the sap from the maple trees at their Clayton Avenue home into syrup.
“It’s so easy and fun to do. The taste is unbelievable,” offered Valorie.
The hobby began at the encouragement of their son, Jonathan and his wife, Lara, who tap the trees of their home in Milton. “Jonathan said, ‘You guys have maple trees. You could do this too,’” she added. “They were our mentors – we watched them for a couple of years and then they got Bill a set of 10 taps for his birthday.”
Tapping the trees is a very simple process, according to Valorie. “You have to have the right size drill tip. You go in about 2 inches at a slight upward angle. The tap is hollow in the middle and there’s a tube on the outside (of the tree). With some taps (this year) immediately the sap started running through the tubes.”
Jonathan advised his parents that the best spot to place a tap is below a large branch or above a large root. “You don’t want to do it in the same spot (every year), which makes sense. That’s where moisture is going,” added Valorie.
The Dicks have five trees tapped. “You don’t tap a tree until it’s 12 inches in diameter and the best are trees that are 40 years old,” she noted.
The optimum time to start the process is when temperatures are in the 20s at night and 40s during the day, usually during February, Valorie said. “That pulls the moisture up through the tree. This morning I collected 5 ½ gallons from 10 taps.”
“We have all different kinds of maple trees (in our yard). Sugar maple is the best for production. And we have two black maples. They are the second best. You can mix the product from different trees together. It’s generally a very clear liquid – pours like water. It’s 2 to 3 percent sugar and has amino acids and vitamins and minerals.”
The couple stores the sap, collected in gallon jugs, in their two refrigerators “until we don’t have any more room. I started cooking … boiling it down … this morning. The sap will run for several weeks and then when the buds (on the trees) come out and the temperatures rise you might as well stop.”
Valorie cooks the sap in a 5-gallon pot on a propane heater on an outdoor patio. “You don’t want the condensation in your house. It makes everything sticky. I keep adding more jugs of the sap. It’s a 40 to 1 ratio … 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. It’s a process,” she said.
“You have to stay on top of the cooking process. When the sap gets an inch or two from the bottom of the cooker – you don’t want to scorch it – I bring it inside and finish cooking it. I have to keep wiping the stove fan to keep it from getting sticky.”
Valorie cooked 11 gallons last week. “It took 11 hours and I got five one-cup jelly jars of syrup. You seal them like you do in canning and then use it. It’s delicious.”
The hobby provides just enough syrup for the Dicks to use on pancakes and waffles and then share with family and friends. “We get a lot of joy out of it. If anyone is interested in learning more, I’d be happy to advise.”