It’s Syrup Time Again

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Sugaring season is here.  With this crazy warm winter we’ve had, I know some people have been sugaring off and on over the past 2 weeks, but I tapped our trees this past Friday.  It looked like we were going to have a stretch of perfect temps for collecting sap.  We collected 11 gallons form 6 taps on Friday and Saturday morning.  I have another 5 gallons on the boiler now (from yesterday, Sunday was too cold)–on my front porch “Sugar House”  as I type this.

We are pretty much following the method we used in the past, but this year we put our nice blue spiles to work.  Despite being plastic, they held up great to be pounded in the trees and have held our 5 gallon buckets just great.  I am very happy with them.  I know many uses small sap buckets, gallon milk jugs, or even mason jars to collect the sap, but I really like using 5 gallon buckets.  They can hold a lot more.  I never leave them until they are full of course, but my best taps can produce 2-3 gallons over the course of a day.  With smaller receptacles, I think I may lose sap when I am gone for longer stretches during the day–like my teaching days.  I also like that we are re-purposing something we already have–no need to buy sap buckets.

The chef and I celebrated our 17th anniversary on Valentine’s Day.  Since we own a restaurant, we will never spend our anniversary together.  We went on a mini-date while our daughter was at school on Thursday.  We did not get each other anniversary gifts.  Instead, we went and got a 20 gallon stainless steel kettle.  We bought the kettle and the propane cooker we use (bought that 2 years ago) at a local Mexican grocery.  Mexican groceries are a great place to look for large pots.   In Mexico, a huge kettle like this would be used to cook for a large crowd or even to sell tamales or carnitas on street corners.  A kettle this big is not cheap, but we know it will get used.  It is perfect for boiling sap.  Since we can put so much in it, I do not have to keep adding sap to my 5 gallon kettle–slowing the process down.  Also, since it is flared, there is more surface area to aid in evaporation–making the whole process quicker.

Other uses we foresee for this kettle are outdoor canning, making huge batches of tomato sauce for canning, cooking for parties, processing chickens, etc.  It may not be a romantic present, but I love it.  My husband’s willingness to not only indulge my farming whims, but to love it nearly as much as I do, is very romantic.

I brought the “almost syrup” indoors to finish on the stove.  I used my canning funnel and the filters I still have from my dairying days to filter the syrup.  This first batch is a light golden hue–fancy grade syrup.  The syrup will darken up as the season progresses.  Now that we have the larger kettle, I am thinking about tapping more trees next year. It would be wonderful if we could use maple syrup for most of our sweetening.

If you are interested in trying this yourself, here is a link to a site that explains the process.

Now, off to make some maple sweetened oatmeal for my breakfast.

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Violet Jelly

Violets are edible and that got me thinking about ways to preserve them. Lucky for me, my unsprayed lawn is full of them. They seem to be especially enamored of the soil near the pines, so I’ll bet they are acid loving plants. I looked up the options for using them in canning and found both violet jelly and violet syrups. Violet cordials can be made also. At the restaurant, we use Parfait Amour in a few cocktails. The best fit for us is the violet jelly and I think it will make a lovely gift also.

So, yesterday, I spent 45 min in my pajamas “harvesting” violets from our front lawn. I needed 2 packed cups and that takes a while. I cleaned them and then poured 3.5 cups of boiling water over them. Almost immediately, they started to release their violet hue. Once the water was room temperature (I let it sit on the counter for most of the day), I strained the flowers out and stashed it in the fridge.  The next day, I added 1/4 c. lemon juice which instantly turned the blue-violet liquid a beautiful rosy lavender.  Bring to a full boil, add one package of pectin, boil again for a full minute, and add 4.5 cups of sugar.  Bring to a full rolling boil again for a minute or two.   Process in water bath canner.  Yielded me around 6 cups of jelly.  The big question is how does it taste?  I used some of the sugar that I had flavored with Meyer Lemon zest from my lemon curd making and the product is a lovely lemony floral jelly of impossibly gorgeous color.  

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