Maple Sugarin’

It’s just about time for the Dynamite Household to engage in our inagural batch of Maple Syrup production.  We inherited a bunch of tools for the job, and bought some simple additional enhancements.  Thus far, the most difficult task may be identifying which trees are maples (not as easy as it sounds in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees, and you’ve spent the last 10 years living in New York City).  I’ve been looking for the opposite branching characteristic – but if any readers have other tips, or other hints for sugarin’ in general, please do leave me a comment.
So far, we have: 
buckets & covers
sap tanks
spigots & hooks
evaporating pans
hydrometer & cup
glass bottles & caps
stovepipe & cinder blocks for fabricating an evaporator
filtering felt
My concern is with sterilizing things – obviously, the sap boils for an extended period of time, but do I need to dip the bottles in boiling water?  How about the caps?  We weren’t sure if we should wash the caps because they have those little paper seals inside them.  We already ran the bottles through the dishwasher.  How clean do the evaporating pans needs to be? 
If any of my readers have made maple syrup from scratch before and have any tips, please let me know.  My middle school actually did this as an after school activity, which I participated in at length, but that was many moons ago.  My chief concern is 1) not burning the finished product and 2) transferring it from the evaporating pans to the bottles – we don’t have a spigot on our finishing pan, so I’ll have to ladle it through a filtered funnel I guess.
Also, we have a monster maple tree in our driveway, but it’s under some duress.  This is a centerpiece tree – the kind of tree that is the focus of the whole property.  I could probably put 6 to 8 buckets on it if it were healthy (it’s two giant trunks merged together), but we had an arborist come by yesterday who warned us that the tree had major health issues (like an old metal chain that was grown into it, choking off its life and slowly killing half the tree) and that it would be best not to tap it. 

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