Posts Tagged ‘old-fashioned maple syrup’

Maple Syrup Season 2013

Posted on April 29th, 2013 by Tonia 11 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.

Maple Moon Sugarbush: The 25th Season

Posted on March 19th, 2012 by Tonia 4 Comments

25 years ago, my parents tapped the maple trees on their sugarbush for the first time. They had just moved back to the States after serving in the Peace Corps for eight years in South America. Being from Chicago originally, my dad was familiar with Northern Wisconsin from vacationing up here with his family as a kid. He started looking around for land and stumbled upon the property they have now called home for 25 years.

It was way back in the woods- eleven miles from the closest town- and had nothing on it but a small log cabin, built with hand tools, and maple trees galore. I mean, TONS of maple trees. My dad’s dream of having a maple syrup operation was looking more realistic. They didn’t waste any time. They hobbled together a makeshift evaporator that first spring, and borrowed taps and pails from anyone who had some to spare.

My mom skimming the foam off the cooking sap – 1987

One of the beauties of maple syrup is that it can be made in a completely low-tech manner. The Native Americans made it using birch-bark “pails”. Over the years we have upgraded from the original cinder-block situation you see above, but it’s still a pretty basic operation: We tap the trees, the sap runs out into the pails, we collect the sap, cook it down, and syrup happens!

Little helpers: my God-brother Brady and me. Age 2 – 1987

My dad’s parents drove up from Chicago to taste the first batch. They love the Northwoods {honeymooned at a rustic lodge up here back when the only transportation to this “wild north land” was a train…unless you wanted to drive the whole way on a dirt road!} and ended up buying a summer cabin about a half hour away.

The operation expanded pretty quickly and my parents bought a draft horse to pull a sled through the woods to make collecting easier. At their most productive, they were tapping about 1200 trees. Customers navigated our 1/2 mile long logging-trail driveway to buy our syrup. We had a sign nailed to a tree half-way down it that read “Keep going, almost there!” because some people would chicken out and turn around thinking they were lost. “Who would live way back here??”

Now, 25 years later, we have scaled back to a comfortable number of 250 taps, and the second generation is gearing up to take a much larger role in the process.

Happy 25th birthday, Maple Moon!!!

Click here to see syruping posts from the past few years.

Scenes from Syrup Season 2011

Posted on March 21st, 2011 by Tonia No Comments

Syrup season kicked off this weekend at Maple Moon Sugarbush! Mike and I helped collect and boil…

Maple steam pouring from the saphouse roof.

Very steamy group shot next to the evaporator.

Maple looooove.

Unfortunately, we are missing most of the season this year due to a business + pleasure trip out to the Pacific Northwest. We leave tomorrow and will be gone for a couple weeks. I will probably be tweeting while on the trip, but most likely I won’t be posting on the blog very much, if at all.

When we get home, though, it will be time to start our garden. AND!! Our new neighbors {renting our cottage} have three chickens, and we talked with them about maybe letting them brood out, so we might have some little chicks pecking around the farm soon! I can’t even explain how excited I am for spring/gardening/chickens. So, stay tuned for posts about all of that coming up in the near future.

Until then, stay in touch via Twitter!

Making Maple Syrup III: Boiling

Posted on April 7th, 2010 by Tonia 4 Comments

Boiling is my favorite part of the syrup making process.  It is also the most tedious of all the steps.  My dad is the boiling master, but Mike has been slowly aquiring the skills from him over the past couple seasons {we plan to carry on the tradition someday with our own kids.}  The first step is to measure the sugar content of the sap.  This number gives you the approximate time you will need to boil before achieving syrup.  The lower the sugar, the more water you will need to boil off.measure1

The sap is pumped up to the “sap house” {the building that houses the evaporator and all the wood that is needed to fire it} from the underground tank, and is held in a large metal bin.  We slowly pump it from the bin to the evaporator, where it begins to heat up. 

As the sap cooks, it is pushed through the separate compartments of the pan, so that the sap that has been boiling longer doesn’t mix with the new sap that has just entered.  New sap constantly pumps in as the older sap boils down.

The depth of the sap in the evaporator pan is crucial…if it dips too low, the syrup will burn.  My dad uses a stick with notches cut into it to constantly monitor the depth of the sap in the pan.boiling1

The job of the “firer” is to keep the evaporated stoked with wood and at a consistent level of hotness.  It is a coveted job, glorified by our dad so that from the moment we were old enough to swing an axe over our shoulders {at about eight years old, to the horror of our mother} we begged to be chosen as the firer.

{I suspect we were tricked into doing many chores as children by this same method…make the chore into a task of honor and importance, and suddenly you have two little people fighting over who will get to do it.}

We chopped wood into small enough pieces to be fed to the evaporator, and heaved the pieces into the roaring fire.  The heat was delicious against the chilly spring air, which helped us forget the splinters we were inflicting on our little hands.  The maple steam billows from the pan and fills the entire sap house, leaving your face moist and warm.  It’s so thick and delicious smelling, you try to eat it, but it disappears.


The final step of the boiling process is to finish the cooking in the “finishing pan”- a small pan over a little gas stove, where the temperature can be more easily controlled.  The risk of over-cooking the syrup is high at this point, and constant monitoring is needed. 

As soon as it is done, the syrup is poured off into a tall cylinder and then filtered through lambs-cloth, which catches any impurities that rose up during the boiling.


The first taste of syrup is so close at this point…everyone knows it, and starts to hover around. {Stay tuned for the final step in the process: canning & tasting!}