February 10, 2014
How to Make Sycamore Syrup, Easy And Cheap - 0
by Tim MacWelch
If you’re familiar with the practices of maple sugaring, then it’s an easy transition to the sycamore tree as a sap source. The act of collecting sap for drinking water and syrup dates back centuries, and it is still a valid way to get some calories and clean water, whether you’re in survival mode or tapping your backyard trees for fun.
The native range of the American sycamore tree covers much of the eastern U.S., although you can purchase seedlings from tree growers and plant them virtually anywhere in the lower 48. Sycamores can be found growing wild in all states east of the Great Plains, except for Minnesota. Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is very easy to spot in winter, even at a distance. The lower half of the tree has a mottled mixture of grey and tan bark. Then, rather abruptly, the tree bark changes into a smooth white bark, with a few scales of tan and grey sporadically clinging to the white. Another identifier is the the sycamore’s seed balls, which are the size of golf balls and light brown in color. They hang from the tree’s twigs and almost look forgotten Christmas ornaments.
To tap your local sycamores you’ll need a portable drill (either cordless or a classic brace & bit), a 7/16-inch drill bit, some ½-inch vinyl tubing, and some clean containers to catch the sap. Plastic drinking water jugs are fine, but I’ve started using plastic vinegar jugs, which have thicker, stronger walls and shouldn’t burst due to freeze expansion if your area suffers a cold snap. The sap is just starting to run now where I live in Virginia, and points further south should be well into sugaring season, which lasts about one month.
As for the boiling process, grab the largest pot you own, a reliable heat source, and head outside. Boiling indoors is never a good idea, as every surface will soon be covered with condensed water. Boiling can be achieved over a wood fire or propane burner. Bring the sap to a boil and keep it boiling until it visibly thickens. It should look like new motor oil when it’s close to done. Dip a spoon into the syrup and pull out one spoonful. Allow it to cool for a moment and then see how it pours. If the syrup forms a curtain-like sheet off the spoon edge, then you are done. If it is still runny, boil off more water. Keep your finished syrup in the fridge to prevent mold, or can the syrup in jars in a water bath canner for long-term storage.
Are you sugaring this season? Which trees are you tapping? Tell us about it in the comments.