Tuesday, March 12, 2013

We are even sappier this year....

Me in front of Bob's sugar shack
      2 years ago, I chronicled my first foray into maple sugaring with my son Nolan.   I got suckered  into helping him but I truly do like to do things that connect me to my food sources.  There is something that seems "real" to me about this, and it reminds me of my experiences working in the garden or helping to butcher beef when I was growing up.  This year we've taken our sapping to a whole new level.

     We missed last year's sap season, it came earlier than anticipated and with us having to borrow our tapping equipment, we weren't prepared when it started and it seemed like it only lasted 10 days.  If you want to read about our first attempt, the year prior, you can find it here (Oh what a Sap I am).  This year we started the discussion earlier and when quizzing a neighbor about where to purchase tapping supplies, while at the local diner, Nolan and I got an offer that we couldn't refuse.  It actually happened over a series of conversations where we had asked if we could bring our sap to his sugarhouse to boil it, and he had agreed.  That would have entailed tapping the trees from a few miles away, pouring it in 5 gallon buckets and then hauling it uphill a quarter of a mile to be processed.  A few weeks later we ran into our neighbor Bob again and he mentioned 
Nolan inspecting the lines for leaks
that his partner wasn't going to be able to assist him in his production this year and offered us a larger role.  If we would help him tap the trees and monitor the flow and with the boiling days, we could keep a portion of the syrup.  We discussed it and then jumped at the offer as it meant that we would be involved in a lot more efficient operation. 

     Bob and his partner built their sugar house in a maple grove or sugarbush (that's what you call a group of maples that  are clustered together and used for syrup production).  This year he tapped about 70 trees and he uses taps and plastic lines to feed the sap to barrels and a holding tank that sit next to his sugarhouse.  The system is gravity fed and the evaporator is wood fired.  There is no power run to the building, so if we work into the evening, we have to use lanterns to see what we are doing.  This is a pretty sweet deal (pun intended) for us as we only have to provide some labor and we get use of the shack, trees, fuel, and access to a $6,000 stainless steel evaporator.  This is quite the step up from our driveway boiling operation from 2 years ago that used a propane tripod cooker

The evaporator
and a large flat pan. That year we made 80oz of syrup from several weeks of collecting and boiling off and this year, we hope to help to make about 10 gallons.  If you remember the ratio, then you'll know that it means we will boil off over 400 gallons of sap to get to that point.

     Nolan has a couple of obligations this year that conflict with the sap season, a middle school production of Charlotte's web (he will play Wilbur) and an Order of the Arrow fellowship weekend, so Mom has even gotten tapped (groan) to help out.  She helped with the set up of some of the lines and has come out to visit a couple of times already.  We spent the majority of last weekend in the woods and produced 1 3/4 gallons and we expect to be tied up for the next 2, doing the same thing.  The process is simple but time consuming. The sap comes into the top evaporator tank from the holding tank outside.  There is a float where you can set the desired level and that will continuously feed the tank.  If you overfill the tank, the water bubbles have trouble escaping and cool down before they boil out, so you want to keep a medium level and maintain a rolling boil.  As the sap becomes closer to being syrup, it drips into a lower finishing pan, whose level is
Nolan skimming the particulates out
controlled by another float, and you check that to see when it becomes syrup.  Bob has a hydrometer that floats to a pre-determined level when you put it into a cylinder filled with liquid and that is how we know the product is ready for bottling.  When it is ready, we run it off into a clean bucket, strain it though a cheesecloth, and then bottle it.  You have to pay attention at this point, as you are handling very hot sticky liquid which would burn like napalm if you spilled it on yourself.  We are using plastic syrup jugs in quart and pint sizes and after we cap them, we invert them for a while to seal them.  This weekend Bob gave us 2 quarts for our efforts, which just about equalled our total production from 2 years ago.  The process reminds me a lot of BBQing, as they both involve long stretches of fire tending while you are waiting for something to slow cook.  I think I've explained the process well enough and since I've already blogged about this topic, I'm going to let the remaining pictures tell the rest of the story, they'll do a better job than me, and without the bad puns. 

Holding tank and collection barrels

Nolan using the hydrometer
Filling the cyklinder to check the syrup

The finished product


Kim Constantino said...

What a great experience!! Thanks for letting us in on it. :)

Daphne Mays said...

What fun! You'll enjoy the yummy-ness all year long!