Sunday, April 21, 2013

Maple syrup sort of an afternoon

The supposed "spring" that we are having is making things difficult for most of us.  We cannot get out and rake our lawns, plant our gardens, ENJOY OUR DAFFODILS, clean up our flower gardens.....  For most of you, I am not giving you any surprising news here.  However, the nasty, cold, wet weather IS good for at least one thing- and that is for making maple syrup.

Bag of partially frozen sap

The outdoor kitchen where the syrup making process occurs
You see the very conditions that make us whine and carry on, are the conditions that are ideal for the spring sap run.  And a long sap run it is turning out to be.  I do NOT claim to be any sort of an expert on maple syruping, I am merely repeating the information that I have gleaned from the fine folks up here who do it, most notably the Mad-friends- Jane and Rog.  HERE is a link to a previous post that Jane and Roger appeared in 2 years ago!  

So for the sap to run, the weather conditions have to be slightly warmish (read: above freezing: 40 would be nice) in the daytime and freezing at night.  It is important for both of these conditions to be in place, because if it doesn't drop below freezing the sap will stop.  I am not going to get into the exact reasons, but basically if it doesn't warm up in the day, the tree thinks it is still winter (and these days the tree would be right) or if it doesn't get cold at night the tree thinks that it is time to produce leaves pronto!!  (The tree would be seriously delusional this year).
Jane in the middle of sap gathering

So this inbetween time is the time when the sweet maple sap runs through the tree and a clever person can put in a little metal tube and stick a covered  bag on it and collect the watery stuff that runs up the tree.  This does not hurt the tree, so don't worry and the taps come out easily, so they don't stay in place forever.  In fact, if the taps are in a long time (like this year it is a month!), they start to heal up and push the taps out!  

Dumping the ice out of the sap bag
The basic plan is that one trudges through the woods with buckets (the old way way to put bucket under the tap, but the bags are easier to cover, as you really don't want extra water in the sap) and pour out the sap and hang it back on the tree.  After the buckets are full, you lug those back to the cooker, which is manned by our handsome host, Rog. Our lovely hostess, Jane, was the main sap gatherer!
Once the sap is at the cooker, one filters it, puts it into the sap tank, get it into the cooker, cook it down to a certain sugar level (science and measuring the sugar is involved here), pour it off and "finish" it, with bottling to follow.

The cooker/evaporator

The upper tank and waiting buckets.  Sap goes into the lower tub, through the filter on top and gets pumped into the upper tank where it awaits being drained into the cooker

On this particular day, we were there at a time when only the gathering and first round of cooking was going on, as the day before was snowing and super cold and NASTY out.  And the trees had quit running for that day.  But as the glorious sunny day went on, the sap began to run again, and there was some liquid in the bags from the little bit that had dripped out since Thursday evening. The sap in the bags were partially frozen to totally a block of ice, but as we went the super frozen ones thawed a bit.  INTERESTINGLY, the stuff that stays frozen the longest is the water and the liquid is the more pure, sweet part of the sap. The evaporation process is partially done if you can leave the ice chunk behind!  It took a while, but we poured off the sap, opened and dumped out the ice, reset the bag and on we went.  The Mad-Art Teacher and her friend Jane had a great time catching up with life, as it has been a while since we touched base!!  After a while the MA and the Barber (who tagged along on this trip) joined in the sap gathering whilst Rog manned the cooker.  Of course it is the easiest and fastest if the sap doesn't have to be frozen into an ice chunk!  But Mother Nature is just not being particularly cooperative in that regard.
Bucket-lugger and bag emptier

The second squad of sap gatherers

Anyway, we got the sap back to the outdoor kitchen, which is such a cool setup, and Roger got the sap into the upper tank and began the cooking process.  In the meantime, while allowing the evaporation to take place, we had coffee, treats and really good coversation!  The sun was warm, but the wind was NOT!!  And we were rewarded for helping with a lovely, amber bottle of syrup!  YAY!!!

The icy, cold day- sunny though!!

part of this years harvest

One batch of syrup was not filtered for calcium- lots of minerals in the sap this year.  The rest of the syrup has been filtered to remove the calcium.

A bag that is a picture example of what this year has been like!

Strong sun on the snow makes for interesting shadows you just don't usually see

Interior of the cooker

The barber enjoying coffee, conversation and the entertainment of watching the water and snow fall off the metal roof. It was more entertaining than you might imagine!

The frozen remains of the sap buckets- This excess water remains frozen a long long time and makes for an interesting ice sculpture

I wish I could have shown you the rest of the process- the finishing and bottling, but that part will take place today!
What a NICE day it was!

Talk about joy givers!!!  THANK YOU for the lovely afternoon, Jane and Roger!


  1. We make maple syrup too, for our family, but much more primitively than your friends. I won't show Bill that gorgeous evaporator...he might think he has to make syrup yearly. It sure is a great run this yr., however, compared to last yr.
    A warning: The calcium (sugar sand), as we call it, can explode your jars. A neighbor had this happen once and when she went to pick up the jars off the shelf, they had cracked at the top of the sugar line. She had quite the sticky mess to clean up. The sugar crystalizes so very hard and within a day of it settling. It happened with our first small batch this yr. We reheated it, and filtered it through a thick orlon bag. It made all the difference in clarity and no more deposits. Just a warning. I'd hate to see anyone loose such precious liquid gold.
    From just north of you

  2. also, a hygrometer is so worth the purchase. It will tell you exactly when your syrup is perfect...and you won't have to worry about the calcium deposits due to overcooking the syrup.
    Hope I didn't bore you to tears, yet.

  3. Hey thanks for the comments, Dar. I will actually pass that info about the calcium laden jars onto Jane. If the Hygrometer is that little floaty thing that you use to test the sugar level, they have that. I didn't take exhaustive photos! :)