Sweet surprise: NJ couple makes homemade maple syrup in Maplewood

It might have been Dave Amerikaner’s first time tapping a sugar maple tree, but even as an amateur, he could tell the fast-flowing stream was a lot of sap.

Sap was falling from branches, running down the mossy bark, blowing around in the wind — it was sap city in late February in the Amerikaner’s backyard, behind a charming powder-blue home situated on a leafy street in Maplewood.

“It’s like it was raining sap from the tree,” he said. “We had no idea.”

He and his wife’s discovery came courtesy of Neal Cavallo, a local fence guy they called for an estimate, who also happens to be knowledgeable about trees.

Cavallo originally came to the house to give the suburban couple an estimate on their dilapidated fence, but ended up offering a lesson in harvesting their land, even if that land is less than nine miles from the Newark airport.

“We were joking that we were like homesteaders,” said Kristina Amerikaner, a parent sleep coach with shoulder-length blonde hair and a warm disposition.

Cavallo — who already had the necessary supplies for tapping trees in his truck, along with a glass jar of his own maple sap for drinking — first shared the traditions of the Lenape tribe by giving thanks to the tree.

He then showed Dave Amerikaner, an amiable land use attorney, how to collect the sap.

Maple trees have a short timeline for their sap flow, and it often fluctuates, Cavallo said. He keeps an eye out for the trees during the time of year and spotted it in the Amerikaner’s backyard immediately.

It’s not uncommon, since the trees are native to the area, but the amount of sap was unexpected. “The tree was sort of like leaking sap, which is a little unusual,” he said.

They drilled a hole in the tree, put a spile in the space, and placed a bucket to collect the sap below. The tree produced about eight gallons of sap during its first week. Fresh sap is pure and similar to water with a hint of sweetness, Cavallo said.

Kristina and Dave Amerikaner, pictured with their dog, Ozzie, tap maple trees in their backyard and produce their own maple syrup.Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

From there, the Amerikaners used cheesecloth to filter out debris and stored the buckets in the family’s garage fridge, since the sap will spoil too quickly if it reaches a temperature above 38 degrees. The next step: boiling the sap down in a turkey fryer outside.

Steam billowed in the air as they continued to add more sap to the fryer for hours, as it further reduced — it takes roughly 40 parts of maple sap to make one part syrup. Dave Amerikaner reported no injuries during the process.

He then transferred it to a smaller saucepan inside the kitchen, for a final boil on the stove. The last few moments are crucial to a syrup’s consistency, since there’s a “fine line between perfect and like, seizing, becoming like a solid,” like caramel, Kristina Amerikaner said.

They found helpful resources on the process online, since some people in Canada and parts of New England regularly make their own maple syrup. (TapMyTrees.com was particularly useful, Dave Amerikaner said.)

The couple’s first batch of homemade maple syrup was their favorite: a dark amber-colored liquid with an intensely maple flavor. The eight gallons of sap generated about three cups of maple syrup. A second batch yielded a much lighter, golden-hued syrup that resembled a thinner and sweeter version of honey.

They completed a third boil session—one per weekend—and when the tree ran dry in mid-March, they took the spile out and covered the hole. The family tapped a second tree too, but it didn’t produce a lot of sap.

Kristina Amerikaner ordered dozens of 3-ounce glass bottles for the syrup and decorated them with a custom label she downloaded from Etsy. “Tapped in Maplewood,” the bottle’s label reads. “American Family Maple Syrup.”

Friends and neighbors received some of the homemade maple syrup, and the couple, along with their two young kids, use their syrup for pancakes, French toast, and the occasional drizzle over yogurt. It is comparable to their old standbys, they said, which is the real maple syrup from Costco.

Dave Amerikaner said they gave Cavallo a couple gallons of fresh, filtered sap that wasn’t reduced into syrup, as a thank you. As of now, they don’t have any plans to sell the syrup.

And the fence that prompted the whole process? Its priority has been downgraded, in the face of the newfound homegrown syrup operation.

“And by the way, we’re not going to fix the fence,” Kristina Amerikaner said. “We’re just going to wait for now.”

Home maple sugaring

After being tapped for sap, the hole in this maple tree is plugged with wood. The tree is in the backyard of Dave and Kristina Amerikaner and the couple make their own maple syrup.Michael Mancuso | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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Brianna Kudisch may be reached at bkudisch@njadvancemedia.com.

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