Posts Tagged ‘how to make maple syrup’

Maple Syrup Season 2013

Posted on April 29th, 2013 by Tonia 10 Comments

We came, we went, we made over 30 gallons of maple syrup.

Since my last post, I have swung wildly from “Still like winter! Winter’s OK! Take your time, I’m fine!” to “Oh my god, when will it eeeeeeend. I haven’t seen the sun in 8 long months. I’m going to die.” But turns out all this late-season cold weather and snow that we’ve (I’ve) been whining about made for a pretty great syrup season! It was like the old days, before global warming, when spring was an actual season that lasted a few months instead of just an afternoon melt session in March where winter cedes the win to summer in the time it takes to frantically brew iced-tea and shave your legs.

My maple-syrup-loving self was delighted that spring didn’t vanish before our eyes, but my I-NEED-SOME-DAMN-VITAMIN-D self was just a liiiiiittle crabby about the full-blown snowstorm we got on April 18. Yeah. We’re talking around 20″ of new snow.

So before we talk about our awesome maple syrup season, here’s a taste of what we were dealing with around here last week (I’m looking for a little sympathy here, in case you didn’t pick up on that.)

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Moving on.

This was the first season in several years where we needed snowshoes for tromping around from bucket to bucket in the woods. The fact that the roots of the trees were insulated by all that snow made the season progress slowly and steadily, instead of the sap gushing out at light-speed and being done within a week. The slow runs made for easier collections because the buckets would only be 1/4 to 1/2 full each time we went out, rather than brimming/over-flowing.

The sugar content was very high and went up as the season progressed, starting out at about 2.5 and ending at 3.5. This allowed for a shorter boiling time and lighter syrup (the longer the sap cooks, the darker the syrup.) We achieved the ideal honey-amber color and smooth, buttery flavor with each batch.

My little brother Danny firing the evaporator and checking sap levels in the pans.

Lunch, enjoyed in the sap house while we worked: Curried butternut squash soup and fresh-caught trout.

Mike pouring finished syrup into the canner.

My mom, Sammi (Danny’s girlfriend), and me canning up a batch.

As a special treat in the middle of a particularly long day of boiling, we made up a whole pile of doughnuts and dunked them in the hot syrup.

You guys…I’m not even going to attempt to explain how out-of-this-world delicious they were. There are no words– just loud, happy, grunting noises and chewing. We will be doing this every year from now on.

As usual, syruping was a lot of work and we all sigh a little sigh of relief when it’s over and normal-life returns. But being together, working out in the fresh air and quiet woods with my family, joking and talking and laughing as we go, is what makes it special and worthwhile. It’s a yearly tradition that has taken place almost every year of my entire life!

Happy 26th season, Maple Moon Sugarbush! Thanks for the liquid gold, and the memories.

Oh, and Mr. Spring? In case you didn’t get the memo…it’s April. You can go ahead and warm up and melt all this snow and start pushing up tulips anytime now. That’d be great.

P.S. Posts from seasons past can be found here.
P.P.S. I promise I will start taking REAL photos again…Instagram is great for documenting little moments here and there, but I think we can all agree that my cell-phone camera compares poorly to the real thing.

Making Maple Syrup II: Collecting

Posted on April 6th, 2010 by Tonia 3 Comments

When all the trees are tapped, we wait for the buckets to fill with sap.  Some years, when the weather is right, we’ll need to collect twice a day, because the sap is flowing so fast. 

The ideal weather for a good sap run only happens during a small window of time every spring {usually lasting a week}.  It needs to freeze at night, and then warm up to about 50 degrees during the day.  This is a tricky weather combination, but the best syrup is made during this window- a beautiful amber color and buttery taste.  Earlier in the spring, the syrup turns out very light in color, and less flavorful.  Later in the spring, the syrup is darker and thicker.  You know the season is over once you start seeing bugs floating in the sap when you go to collect it.collecting1

As I explained here, we don’t tap as many trees as we used to, because we do all the collection on foot now.  Instead of using horses to pull a sleigh with a tank on it, we now set up “collection stations” throughout the woods {large Tupperware bins}, and we dump the sap into these bins. 

The sap gets funnelled through hoses down to an underground holding tank.  It’s kept cold in there until we have enough to boil.  Since sap only has about 2% sugar content, it can take about 40-50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.  Our evaporator is very large, so we need at least 300 gallons of sap before we start boiling, or else we run the risk of burning the syrup in the pan.

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A quick synopsis of how maple syrup is made can be found here, along with some neat old photos.

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Our “maple mascots”, Charlie Brown and Schroeder, keep a look-out for us while we work.

Making Maple Syrup: Tapping

Posted on April 4th, 2010 by Tonia 9 Comments

The woods are quiet
except for the birds singing
and the ping-pinging.”
-Maple haiku, by Tonia

A very long time ago, when the world was new, Gitchee Manitou made things so that life was very easy for the people. There was plenty of game and the weather was always good and the maple trees were filled with thick sweet syrup. Whenever anyone wanted to get maple syrup from the trees, all they had to do was break off a twig and collect it as it dripped out.

One day, Manabozho went walking around. “I think I’ll go see how my friends the Anishinabe are doing,” he said. So, he went to a village of Indian people. But, there was no one around. So, Manbozho looked for the people. They were not fishing in the streams or the lake. They were not working in the fields hoeing their crops. They were not gathering berries. Finally, he found them. They were in the grove of maple trees near the village. They were just lying on their backs with their mouths open, letting maple syrup drip into their mouths.

“This will NOT do!” Manabozho said. “My people are all going to be fat and lazy if they keep on living this way.”

So, Manabozho went down to the river. He took with him a big basket he had made of birch bark. With this basket, he brought back many buckets of water. He went to the top of the maple trees and poured water in, so that it thinned out the syrup. Now, thick maple syrup no longer dripped out of the broken twigs. Now what came out was thin and watery and just barely sweet to the taste.

“This is how it will be from now on,” Manabozho said. “No longer will syrup drip from the maple trees. Now there will only be this watery sap. When people want to make maple syrup they will have to gather many buckets full of the sap in a birch bark basket like mine. They will have to gather wood and make fires so they can heat stones to drop into the baskets. They will have to boil the water with the heated stones for a long time to make even a little maple syrup. Then my people will no longer grow fat and lazy. Then they will appreciate this maple syrup Gitchee Manitou made available to them. Not only that, this sap will drip only from the trees at a certain time of the year. Then it will not keep people from hunting and fishing and gathering and hoeing in the fields. This is how it is going to be,” Manabozho said.

And, that is how it is to this day.

{Ojibwe Legend}
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Sweet, buttery, sticky, wonderful maple syrup has been made in my family for 23 years now.  We do it the Manabozho way:

Drill a hole in a tree,
Put a “tap” in the hole,
Hang a pail from it,
Collect the sap when the pail is full,
Boil the sap in an “evaporator” {a huge pan over a huge fire} until it becomes syrup,
Can the syrup in mason jars,
Eat.

Back in the day, we used to tap 1,100 trees on our land, pouring what we collected into a big tank on a sleigh, pulled by a draft horse.  It was a lot of work, but we never thought of it that way.

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There are too many wonderful things about syrup-making for it to really be considered “work”.  The smell of the air as the woods wake up for spring.  The sound of the sap as it drips from the tree.  The satisfying soreness of your arms after a long day of hauling heavy buckets.  The story-telling, snowball fights, pranks, and laughter.  The maple-steam billowing from the evaporator.  And of course, the first taste of syrup: hot, sticky, and worth it.

Even though we have scaled the operation back in recent years {we no longer have our horses, so we do all the collection on foot now}, syruping is still a beloved family tradition that brings us together, no matter what, every spring.

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Some of our trees are large enough to hang two or three pails on.
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When all the pails are hung, the woods fill with the soft sound of the sap dripping into the pails…ping, ping, ping…

Don’t let any snow get in the pails…
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Make sure you save enough energy to have a little fun…
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If you have a few maple trees on your property, I would really encourage you to try making some syrup!  Please feel free to contact me directly for more information about the process.  I would be happy to help you get started.  toniasimeone {at} gmail {dot} com

Stay tuned for the rest of the Making Maple Syrup series, coming soon!