I know what you are thinking... this is NOT Jed Clampett's whiskey still. It is our sap evaporator.
After collecting the sap, we bring it back to our evaporator. It is driven by a wood-burning stove. The wood comes from trees that were blown down in storms, etc... around Indianapolis. We pour the sap through a filter to strain out any unwanted debris (leaves, bugs, etc…). Then, we pour it into the evaporator. The sap will cook at a low boil for about 10-12 hours. We usually start a batch on a given day and finish it up the next. Some producers will stay with a batch until it has finished. Modern day facilities have machines that monitor the syrup and have automatic shut-offs. It takes a long time to remove the excess water in the form of steam from the sap. What will be left behind is concentrated sugars that eventually make syrup. True maple syrup has nothing added to it; it is pure sap collected from the tree and boiled. Nothing else.
After boiling for what seems forever on the evaporator and the sap has started to turn gold in color, we transfer it to a smaller finishing pan so we can watch it closely. A batch of syrup can be completely ruined if it burns at this time. We use a turkey cooker for our finishing pan. The syrup will cook for another 2 hours or so until it reaches 218 degrees F. We the perform a sheeting test, for thickness. If the syrup drips off the end of a metal scoop quickly, it is not thick enough. If it holds together to form a sugary sheet, it is ready. Lastly, we use a hydrometer, a special tool used to measure the specific gravity or density of the syrup, to check if it is at the right consistency.
If all the tests indicate it is ready, we will filter the syrup through three filters, then take it inside to bottle. We heat it up on the stove to 180 degrees F, then bottle it while it is still hot.
Here is an action shot of my two co-workers busily working while I am goofing off and taking pictures. :) Miranda Sears is in the foreground and Chris, Captain Sugar-Maker, is in the back checking the evaporator. And, yes, he insists on being called Captain Sugar-Maker.
We are currently taking reservations for school, scout and homeschool groups. These educational programs cover the history of making maple syrup and have lots of hands-on activities for children to enjoy. We also have a public maple syrup program on Saturday March 7th. You can register by calling the park at (317) 861-5167.