“At last, as Grandma stirred, the syrup in the saucer turned into little grains like sand, and Grandma called: ‘Quick girls! It’s graining!’
Aunt Ruby and Aunt Docia and Ma left the dance and came running. They set out pans, big pans, and little pans, and as fast as Grandma filled them with the syrup, they set out more. They set the filled ones away to cool into maple sugar.”
When Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma and Pa still lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, they traveled by sled through the woods to Grandma and Grandpa’s house to join them in gathering and boiling maple sap to make cakes of brown maple sugar.
Sugaring season was a celebration and a lot of hard work requiring all hands on deck. While Grandpa and the men collected buckets of sap and carried them back to the house with wooden buckets on yokes, Grandma and the women stayed indoors to boil the sap in a big brass kettle.
Eventually, the sap would evaporate enough water that it would become maple syrup, and by continuing to heat the syrup, it would grain into maple sugar.
Luckily, we do not need to carry buckets full of sap through the woods to enjoy delicious maple sugar candy at home. This recipe walks you through the process of making your own maple sugar candy, starting with store-bought maple syrup.
However, if you are inclined to collect sap to make syrup and candy from scratch, please read the section after the recipe in which I describe how my family taps the black walnut trees on our property each year to make a delicious black walnut syrup.
- 2 cups real maple syrup
- Heavy stainless steel pot
- Candy thermometer
- Plates, muffin liners, baking sheets, or molds in which to cool the candy
Pour the maple syrup into a heavy stainless steel pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, continue to boil the syrup until it reaches a temperature of 235 degrees F (110 degrees C), stirring occasionally. This step may take about a half hour.
Remove the pot from the heat and let the syrup cool to 175 degrees F. Do not stir the syrup during this time. It will take about 5-10 minutes to cool.
When the syrup reaches 175 degrees, begin to stir with a wooden spoon or whisk rapidly for about 3-5 minutes, until the mixture becomes thick and creamy and lightens in color.
Working quickly, pour the thickened syrup into molds, muffin liners, or onto plates to cool. It can be helpful to lightly grease the molds or plates first with butter or coconut oil.
Let the maple sugar candy cool completely. Enjoy as is, or crumble on top of yogurt, oatmeal, or your favorite sweet treat.
While modern day syrup production looks different than what Laura and her family experienced in the Big Woods, home-scale syrup making is not that dissimilar!
My family taps the black walnut trees on our property each year, boiling the sap down to make a delicious black walnut syrup. While the flavor is perhaps a bit earthier and nuttier than maple syrup, the process of making black walnut syrup is the same.
We tap 14-20 trees each winter, usually in February. Sugaring season begins when daytime temperatures rise above freezing, and nighttime temperatures remain below freezing.
In Little House in the Big Woods, Pa describes to Laura how Grandpa prepares for sugaring season. While Grandpa worked all winter to make handmade wooden buckets and wooden troughs to collect sap, our family uses metal spiles that are bored into the trees, and metal or plastic buckets.
Like Grandpa, we head into the woods each day to collect the sap, transferring it into larger buckets and hauling it home to boil over a campfire. This is an exciting time for our family, and we look forward to the daily walks and the boiling pot of sap.
When our sugaring season is complete, we will have made 1-3 gallons of black walnut syrup, hardly enough to boil down further to make into black walnut sugar candy, but plenty to enjoy over pancakes all year long.
Would you like to make your own syrup and maple sugar candy at home? Learn more about the process of making syrup in your backyard, and how to tap black walnut trees for syrup, and then let us know how it went!
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