On warm winter days, our thoughts often turn to making maple syrup. This is the first food that we will produce for the coming year. A major component of making maple syrup is the evaporator. This is what we use to take the sap from 2% sugar to 66.7% sugar. The entire process is about getting rid of water through evaporation. When we first started making maple syrup, we would boil it in a small pan over a fire. As you wait for the water to boil off, you have a lot of time to think about how you could speed up the process. A maple syrup pan can boil off one gallon of sap an hour for each square foot of surface area. So a pan that is 2’x4′ can boil off 8 gallons an hour. This is the most time consuming part of the process. As you sit there waiting, it’s impossible to not think of ways to make the process more efficient and every year we make upgrades. Last year we got a new pan, so we built an evaporator. It would be too expensive to build one from scratch, so we built it from an old tank/stove that we had found in the woods.
After a lot of cutting and some welding we had a basic evaporator. This was a big upgrade for us and allowed us to burn much less wood in the process.
During the season last year, we made several modifications to make it work more efficiently, however it still left something to be desired. So this season, we came up with a plan to get that sap boiling faster. All winter long, my mind worked on ideas to make it better. We looked at commercial evaporators and watched videos, however, none were made out of an old relic like ours. We borrowed ideas from all the different evaporators we had seen, and began working.
We are not metal workers so this would be a new adventure. We do own a small welder and some grinders and saws. We gathered them up and set to work. A major component of all the evaporators we saw in our research was a ramp. The ramp forces heat against the pan to get it boiling, so we ordered some steel and began to weld, and weld, and weld.
We also knew that firebrick would retain a lot of heat and make our evaporator work more efficiently, so we made our design with them in mind. We also found that a fire burns much hotter with the air coming from underneath, so we built a grate and moved our door upward. We also added a flue and chimney so we did not get a face full of smoke the whole time that we boiled. Lastly, we added the firebrick.
We now had what looked like a much better evaporator. Often in homesteading and life you have to take a risk, not knowing what the outcome will be. You may be building a fence or raising animals for the first time. You never know how these things will turn out. You can do all the research in the world, but there is no substitute for doing, or trial and error. We crossed our fingers and started a fire in the evaporator.
The sap quickly heated up and was boiling in no time, not to mention a greater area of the pan was boiling, so the upgrade was a success! Now we can’t wait for all that sap to flow. One of our favorite parts of homesteading is learning. It seems like we are always learning something new, or learning a new way to do something old. We are constantly challenging ourselves to do more, to learn more, and to live more.