Real maple syrup starts with the sap from a maple tree. Making maple syrup is a well-steeped tradition going back to the first Native Americans, so it’s something any homesteader can tackle today.
However, sourcing real maple sap may not be convenient or affordable unless you have access to a large number of trees, so there's also an easy way to make maple syrup substitute that will satisfy your family’s desire for the sweet pancake drizzle. You’ll find information on both below.
Step 1 - Collect Sap
Collect sap from the sugar, black, red, or silver (in preferred order) maple trees. Sap flows best when the daytime temperature is above freezing and the nighttime temps sink below freezing. This is typically February or March in most areas.
Drill a hole into the maple tree and insert a wooden or steel tube, called a spile, and hang a bucket from the end of the tube to collect the sap. Sap looks like water dripping from the tree, and can flow quickly or slowly.
Collect the sap daily when it's flowing and store it in food grade containers until you have a large quantity. It takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of pancake syrup (hence the steep price tag on the natural versions). Keep your sap stored at below 38 degrees fahrenheit and convert it into syrup within a week or so before it spoils.
Step 2 - Boil
Sap can contain bacteria, so you should always boil it before consumption. Bring the sap to a rolling boil and allow it to continue for at least one full minute. Boiled sap can be used in any recipe that calls for water to add a slightly sweet flavor.
For syrup, you will need to boil off all of the excess water. Small batches can be prepared on your kitchen stove. Boiling large quantities of sap should be done outdoors because of the amount of steam it creates. This can be done over a wood fire or on a grill.
This will take several hours, so make sure you have sufficient fuel. Boil the sap in a large pot until it reduces down to ¼ to ½ of the original amount. Then slowly stream in additional sap, maintaining a boil.
When all the sap has been added and the mixture turns a golden brown, transfer it to a smaller pot and move to the stove. At this point, simply monitor the pot while it continues to boil until it reaches the proper syrup consistency.
Step 3 - Filter
You'll want to remove the sediment from your syrup, so allow it to cool and then press it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth. Alternately, allow the mixture to sit in the refrigerator overnight and the sediment will sink to the bottom of the container.
Step 4 - Store
Boil or otherwise sterilize bottles and caps. Pour the syrup in and store in the refrigerator for up to two months. Syrup can also be frozen for a longer period.
Homemade Maple Syrup Substitute
Step 1 - Boil Sugar and Water
All types of sugar will work for your syrup base, so it's really a matter of preference. Play around with the recipe to reach your preferred level of sweetness and thickness.
Start with one cup of white sugar and one cup of brown sugar. If you want a lighter syrup, go with a higher ratio of white sugar—a darker and thicker syrup will result from more brown sugar. Combine the sugars with one cup of water and bring to a boil.
Step 2 - Add Maple Extract
You can easily find maple extract online and in most grocery stores. Look in the baking aisle for a selection of extracts, likely next to the well-known vanilla extract.
Simmer your sugar water on medium-high briefly until the sugar completely dissolves. Then, reduce the heat to medium low and add one tablespoon of maple extract. Continue to simmer a few minutes longer to meld the flavors.
Step 3 - Store
Store your maple syrup substitute in a jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.