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.

Sap to Syrup??…..Sap to Syrup!!

I am not going to give a how-to of tapping trees and making maple syrup.  There are lots of places that can tell you that.  I am going to recap our adventures.  Last year at this time, friends who have a farm podcast called Geek, Farm, Life  recounted their adventures in  making maple syrup and I decided that was something we could try too.

Soooooo…I, of course, procrastinated.  I ordered the taps, called spiles, last Wednesday from a company called Leader Evaporator. I immediately realized that we might miss about half the season waiting for the order to arrive. When I have a plan, I have no patience.  I wanted to tap trees NOW.  So, I explained my plight to hubby and said there must be a way to make your own spiles.  So, we found some online instructions and, with the help of our local Ace Hardware, used 3 inch segments of copper pipe, flexible vinyl tubing, hose clamps, and 5 gallon buckets to tap our trees.  AND, IT WORKED.  But, it also leaked pretty badly on a few.  We did 7 taps before running out of hose.  we waited for the real spiles to come int the mail which they did on Tuesday.  Putting those spiles in was easy and they do not leak at all.  The ones we ordered :

Getting the taps in and the sap out was only the first hurdle.  We had decided to purchase a large commercial outdoor burner from one of the Mexican markets around here.  They sell them for making tamales, quesadillas, etc.  We will use it for syrup, processing chickens, canning, tamales, parties, etc.   After about an hour of me cursing and not getting it working Paco came home, cursed a bit, and then figured out that we needed a  different connection.  So, batch one started to boil.  We had 5 gallons from the first day and a half.  I checked it regularly.  It took about 3 hours to cook down.  Inside, it would have taken twice that time.  I was monitoring temperature.  It needs to get to 219 degrees.  At 212 degrees, I went to take Lily to bed, came back downstairs and had a scorched mess.  I was almost in tears.   So I turned off the burner and went to bed.

Next day, we get about 8 gallons of sap.  After an hour of scrubbing the pot (no exaggeration), we started again.  This time the plan was to transfer it inside when it starts to get close for more careful monitoring.  I was checking frequently, but it STILL went too far.  This batch was not scorched, but it is closer to maple sugar than syrup. 

Yesterday, we have 12 gallons of sap! Our large pot holds 5 gallons so a lot of adding was down to ge the whole batch evaporated down. Started boiling at 2 and by 9 PM we have about 1/2 a gallon of something close to syrup.  We transfer to a smaller pot in order to decrease the surface area and slow down the process a bit (thanks for the tip Andrew!).  I cover the pot with a cloth and go to bed.  I easily finished the syrup this morning by not leaving it’s side and taking the temp constantly.  It took about 40 minutes. 

Strained it, put into canning jars and sealed them.  1 full quart and 1 cup!!

I expect to repeat the process this afternoon.  WE DID IT!!!!

drilling with 1/2 inch drill bit--about 2 feet up the tree
inserting pipe and attaching hose
watching the wood expand and fall of the bit
our homemade system
boil, baby, boil