Thursday, March 19, 2015

Tapped


One thing I love about homesteading is that you are always learning, growing and challenging yourself.  Each year is full of trial and error, not only in the methods we use, but also in navigating the constant ebb and flow of Mother Nature.  These are things that make the experience true.  Living from the land, working for the land, and ever dependent on the elements for success.


This is our second year sugaring and as expected we have learned from our experience, tweaked our methods and now are putting into practice the latest revision...which I am sure will continue to be finessed as we move forward.   Thankfully, B is an avid researcher and always looking for new and creative ways to macgyver re-purpose and utilize items around the farm to make our experience richer, more efficient, and tailored to our life here.  The sweet spot for sugaring is catching the early sap flow.  Days that are warming, but not too warm, and nights that are still below freezing.  The trick is also knowing when to stop, however I think mother nature also took care of this one, making it such a laborious process that after about two weeks devoted to collecting, storing, then finally hours upon hours of evaporating, we. are. done.


We use one gallon food grade buckets fitted with lids and tubing that slides over the spiels.  Last week we were emptying the buckets once a day, yesterday, it was three times a day!  We use a medium sized medical grade stainless steel kennel (would you expect less from a Veterinarian:) to store all of the sap collected during the week.  We keep the container covered and buried in snow to keep it very cold.  As our snow is almost gone this week, we are wheel barreling in what we can find and once that is gone will pack the container in ice.


When it comes time for evaporating, we use another larger kennel (the more surface area the better) that we insulate with blankets to prevent the steam from condensing on the sides, and place over three large camp stove burners.  We have another burner that we are using to pre-heat to boiling sap before we add it to the already hot liquid in the evaporator.  so as not to slow the process as we add more sap.  Then, it is just lots and lots of time.  At roughly one gallon of syrup to every forty gallons of sap, plan to be cooking, and not having much in the way of sleep for at least a day.


Once you have evaporated down to say the final three and a half gallons or so, transfer into a large stock pot and once again place over a burner for the final evaporation.  We are doing this outside this year.  You can certainly do it inside too, but our experience last year was that every window in the house was covered with condensation.  You must really keep and eye on it now.  They syrup needs to reach 7.5  degrees Fahrenheit above what water will boil at your house on that day.  It takes forever to go those final 5 degrees.  Do not leave the pot unattended!  In the final several degrees the sap will froth and boil over the pot if the temperature is not ruduced.  Also, especially  if you are working with smaller volumes, you can sail past the finish point and scorch the whole batch.  Hours of watching that proverbial pot boil will be a drain pour.


Now it is time to cool.  Once it reaches close to room temperature, we transfer it to large gallon bottles and let it sit for twenty-four hours to allow any sentiment to settle out.  The sentiment is called sugar sand and is an accumulation of minerals that settle out during the boiling process.  Then pour it into whatever containers that you like, leaving any sentiment at the bottom of your initial bottle, and refrigerate.  We tend to store it bulk in gallon bottles in the refrigerator in our basement then just pour into containers for gifts or for general use. We keep a bottle of it in our upstairs refrigerator that we re-fill as needed.  Refrigeration is important, as it is preservative free, if left at room temperature of for the long term it will mold.  You would be amazed at all of the great recipes that you can use maple syrup in!  As I type this I have added of teaspoon of it with some whole milk to my morning coffee.  Now, that is a treat!

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