Updated: Apr 4
From tipped over barbecue grills to sipping syrup fresh off the arch, Grampa Mack's maple syrup making is a journey to remember. It began in 2013 when he and my husband tapped all the maple trees they had and decided to cook the sap on their barbecue grills that spring. Why the barbecue grill, you ask? There are two reasons for that - first, you can't boil sap in your house or the whole house will get sticky, and and second, the two of them are just nuts. 😂 Mack was finishing up a batch of syrup on the side burner of his grill when he ran out of propane. A strong wind picked up that tipped over his grill. Over 4 gallons of nearly finished syrup was dumped down his driveway. I don't know about him, but I would have cried. That was a lot of time lost, and it was also the last time they made maple syrup on the barbecue grill.
2014 syrup making was also an adventure. Mack and Kevin built an arch out of cinder blocks and dirt, and boiled sap on top in restaurant steam trays. The syrup they made was smoky flavored because they didn't have a way to vent the smoke and ash away from the boiling sap. All they had was a homemade arch in the ground with no shelter, and they had to stand outside in the cold and watch it the whole time they were boiling. I told you - they are cuckoo-bananas!
In 2015 the homemade arch was used again, but this year Mack and Kevin built a temporary shelter (using tarps and uncut unistrut 🤣) with a vent for the smoke and ashes. The syrup was yummy, but they really couldn't process very much in this inefficient manner, so they decided to buy an arch and kick it up a notch the next year.
The group of pictures below are from the first year Mack and Kevin cooked on an arch. They moved their temporary structure to its permanent resting place and put on a roof and 3 sides, this time made of steel siding. The arch went inside the building and the front was left open. They attached a large pipe to the arch for venting and it ran out the front of the building and up past the roof. This pipe got VERY hot, so they built a unistrut frame around it to keep the burned flesh to a minimum. 😱
Below you will see how the arch is the base of the unit used to make syrup. It is where the wood is burned. On top of the arch is a set of warming trays used to pre-warm the sap before boiling. Also on top of the arch is the stainless steel evaporator pan that holds the boiling sap, and on the side of that pan is a spigot where the finished syrup comes out. It takes a lot of time and a lot of wood to make syrup, but the end result is worth it. 😋
While the arch was nice and hot, the weather outside definitely was not. 🥶
💕 I love this picture of grandfather and granddaughter sipping on syrup in the truck to stay warm.
Once Kevin and Mack bought an arch they were able to tap more trees, and Mack would tap any maple he could get his hands on. He was able to tap 35 trees on this property from 2016-2020. His grandkids were a giant help to him every year. Most days his grandsons would gather all of the sap from these buckets for him. When full, each bucket weights approximately 50 pounds, so I am sure he was extremely grateful for every carried bucket!
Mack taps trees wherever he can. In this next group of pictures he's tapping trees on our property with Zoey. The tapping season begins when the temperature is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. This fluctuation in temperature is what causes the sap to flow. The sap travels up the tree durning the day when the temperature is above freezing, and then travels back down the tree at night when the temperature is below freezing again. Mack does all of his collecting in food-grade buckets and he uses fresh tubing each year. It is definitely a lot of work, but it makes him happy and he's earned it. 💚
When the sap is flowing good, it needs to be gathered every day. This is Mack and Zoey doing some collecting. The dogs like to get involved too. 🖤
In the fall of 2017 Kevin built a Sugar Shack for his dad. It's where all of the syrup has been processed since 2018. Our dear friend Mike was kind enough to spend a few days of his time helping get this big job done. His engineering expertise was integral to the process and we are so grateful for his help. The building turned out great! Mack is warmer and much more comfortable when he is cooking, and he has room to store all of his supplies too.
This next set of pictures give you a better view of the arch and its components. You also get to see more of my handsome husband working on yet another project. 😉 The big white box above the arch is the hood that collects the steam produced from boiling. It's attached to a power vent to help push the moisture out of the room. That hood wasn't finished the first two years Mack processed in the shack and sometimes the moisture content was so high that it would rain on him while he was boiling.
When the fluctuation in temperature ceases and the trees begin to bud, maple syrup season is officially over. The taps need to be pulled, the buckets need to be washed and stored, and the syrup needs to be canned. The end of the season brings its own set of chores to accomplish and thankfully Mack has some help.
This is Grandma Carol. She is a saint. 💜 Every year she has to put up with Mack and his maple syrup shenanigans. I don't know how he would get it all done without her because she helps him in so many ways. She cleans buckets, helps him can the syrup, brings him lunch when he's gone all day, and she also puts up with his tired, crabby self when he finally comes home after another long day of boiling. 😂
According to Mack the sugar content of the sap was much higher this year than in previous years. He said he could taste the sweetness in the fresh sap when typically he cannot. Last year it took him 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. This year it only took him 24 gallons of sap for each finished gallon of syrup. That's a BIG difference! The syrup is also lighter in color this year because he didn't have to boil it as long. He and Carol ended up canning 12 pints and 80 quarts of syrup. They also filled 3 large decorative maple leaf bottles. The sugar content was so high this year that he got more syrup than he did in 2020, even with 35 less trees!
If you live in the area and would like to try Grandpa Mack's famous maple syrup, click here to purchase some. You'll have to go pick it up, but you'll be happy you did. It's that yummy. 😋
Hopefully you enjoyed learning a little about Mack and his maple syrup journey. When I asked him why he does it he said, "It's something to do, and I like it." Kevin enjoys the syrup making process too, and he thinks the syrup is better than anything he can get in a store. He also sees how happy it makes his dad and thinks that alone makes it worth all the work. I agree. 🍁
Jenny the Hemp Goddess is a small-town Michigan mom, skincare entrepreneur, and part-time writer.