How to Tap a Maple Tree Like a Mainer

Fourth-generation sugar maker Scott Dunn’s tips for turning your sap into syrup.

Like most projects, making maple syrup can be as simple or as complicated as you want. For the average backyard hobbyist, Craigslist is a good source for supplies. “A lot of people take a used 55-gallon drum, cut holes in the top of it, put steam pans in, a smokestack off the back, and a fireplace door on the front,” says Scott Dunn, a fourth-generation sugar maker and owner of Dunn Family Maple in Buxton. Here in Maine we can tap red maples, sugar maples, and silver maples—“If you can find it, you can tap it,” Dunn says. One good tree can produce a pint to a quart of syrup, depending on the year. Simply drill a hole in the trunk, stick a tap in, and choose a collection vessel, whether it’s a bucket, a water jug, or a tubing system. “The old galvanized buckets are by far my favorite,” says Dunn. “You get this sweet harmony of sap dripping on the bottom of the empty bucket.” Dunn started sugaring as a kid in Vermont using his great-grandfather’s buckets and boiling the sap in a big pot over an open fire. In its simplest form, making syrup is just a matter of evaporating the water from the sap. The heat from the fire causes the sugars to caramelize, creating the liquid gold we know and love. But be warned: you probably don’t want to boil sap in your kitchen. As the old farmer’s joke goes, “We have syrup, but now there’s no wallpaper.” These days, Dunn uses a sugar shack, which creates a perfect place to gather with family and friends on sugaring weekends. “The rule everyone tries to follow is, if the sap runs that day, boil it that day,” he says. Don’t have enough sap to boil at once? If temps are below 50 degrees, you can leave the sap out.

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