What not to do if you hope to make backyard syrup

My job is inspirational to me.

I meet amazing people doing great things in their communities, homes and personal lives. Sometimes those people inspire me to do more with my own life.


Such was the case when I met Len Price, a maple syrup producer at Nutkin Knoll Farm in Newburgh.

Price and his wife started their mid-size maple farm with little to no experience. They now own and operate arguably one of the most popular maple and Christmas tree farms in Greater Bangor.

I came home from my interview and tour of Len’s farm with a newfound determination to make the most of of my quarter-acre lot in the middle of Bangor. We already harvest apples and pears and had a very successful garden last year.

But the lone, rather large and imposing Norwegian maple in our front yard was just begging to be tapped and its sweet, sticky sap turned to syrup.

Last year we tried. Oh, how we tried.

But in a lesson in what not to do, we boiled three buckets of clear sap down in our kitchen … on the stove.

Instead of edible syrup, we had a bubbled-up popcorn ceiling. Worse than that, dirty water pooled along the ridge where the counter meets the kitchen wall. Apparently, the steam had removed every speck of dirt and grease and pulled it down the wall, leaving behind gray streaks, evidence of the lack of deep cleaning occurring at the Feulner house.

A few weeks ago as temperatures rose and sap flowed, we tried again.

Photo by Brian Feulner

Photo by Brian Feulner

This time, we boiled the sap, a little at a time, over an open fire. The sap, clear when it went into my giant canning pot, turned a beautiful amber color within a few hours. After a few more, it was the consistency of something you’d buy in a leaf-shaped glass jar at Hannaford.


Or so we thought.

Yes, our color was perfect, and no, we didn’t burn the kitchen down, but our quart of syrup tasted like someone had dumped an entire bottle of liquid smoke into the pan while it cooked. Not exactly what you’d want to pour over a high stack of pancakes.

Lesson learned.

We already have plans in the works to build a backyard evaporator so we don’t have to worry about opening the jar and have smoke waft out, burning the hairs right out of our nostrils.

But until then, I want to know your stories. What sort of backyard homesteading do you do? Do you keep chickens? Turn all the apples into cider in the fall? Save rain runoff and use it to water your summer garden?

Natalie Feulner

About Natalie Feulner

Natalie Feulner is a journalist and “semi-crunchy” cloth diapering momma to a rambunctious toddler named after a county in California. She drinks too much tea and loves to climb rocks but not at the same time.