February 17, 2013

Getting Sticky

The morning after we tapped our tree we woke to find our bucket 3/4 full. It was a cold Sunday not getting above 32 degrees, but we got down to the business of making our sap into syrup.

The sap comes out like a slightly sweetened water,  so as you can imagine it takes a lot of boiling to get it to become a sticky, syrupy consistency. In fact they say that 40 gallons of sap boils down into 1 gallon of syrup. Since so much water gets boiled out, the directions we read said that it's not good to boil in the house because there's too much moisture. Especially if there is wall paper in the house.

Soooooo we made a fire in the backyard.

We stacked cinder blocks on either side of our fire pit so we could stretch a camping grill grate across them.

We dug out our existing pit a little bit so we could get our fire low enough under the grate. We got our fire going first thing so it could heat up.

Tyler took our bucket of sap down and hung a new one up.

We first filtered our sap through Tyler's Toddy, a cold brew coffee system, to get out any debris that ended up in our bucket. Our lid system was not perfect but it did a decent job.

Then, we poured it into a cast iron pot with a lid to put over the fire.

We decided to use a combination of a lid and a mesh strainer to cover the top of our pot. We wanted to keep ash from getting into our pot but we didn't want to keep the lid on the whole time because it would prevent the steam from getting out as quickly. We ended up setting the mesh over the whole pot and kept the lid off center to allow the steam to escape.

Our sap came to a boil surprisingly quick, but the whole boiling process took most of the day. When the sap would boil down partially, we would add a little bit more. And then when that boiled down, a little more. And the process continued...

Until we had it boiled down to the point that it was a bit amber in color and basically all fit into the same pot. Then we moved inside to the stove. We turned our vent on high and used a candy thermometer to keep an eye on the sap. By this point it tasted very maple-y but it was still extremely thin.

The temperature of syrup is supposed to be 7 degrees over boiling point, so for our area we boiled it until it was 217 degrees Fahrenheit. It was still very thin while hot but we weren't sure if it would thicken as it cooled. We took it off and strained it through the Toddy once again. It didn't thicken. We hadn't boiled it quite hot enough and needed to put it on for a little bit longer. It didn't take too much longer and we had REAL MAPLE SYRUP from our own backyard.

We got two more buckets of sap. But they were partially tainted with rain water. Tyler convinced me we shouldn't dump them and he made more syrup on his days off (he quit his job). This time he did the whole boiling process in the house (since we don't have any wallpaper). The result is that we have two distinctly different flavored maple syrups. The first is lighter and very smoky flavored, the second is darker and tainted very maple-y tasting.

We've had fresh pancakes but our freezer is also stocked with waffles and french toast sticks to give us plenty of excuses to eat our syrup. I have actually been eating more of the second batch of syrup myself.

We also went to a Maple Syrup Festival in Eureka, Missouri. We felt like old pros looking at all the "how to" information but the best part was the syrup on snow candy. I remember trying to make maple on snow after reading Little House on the Prairie, but to no avail. But at the festival we got free samples. They boil the syrup even more  and then pour it on the snow and it assumes a taffy consistency and it is delicious!


We still want to go to Vermont someday to have the Northeastern maple syruping experience but I'd say the Midwest experience was totally cool and maybe something we will do year after year.  So friends and family, if you want to come visit in the next month or two we'll make you breakfast and let you try some of Amy & Tyler's Maple Syrup. Bon Appetit!


February 16, 2013

Getting Sappy

For a long time I've wanted to go to Vermont in the winter time and take a horse-drawn sleigh around the woods collecting sap for maple syrup making. This dream, no doubt, came from The Saddle Club when I was little and obsessed with the series and one of the books focused on that exact scenario.

It sounds so idyllic,  does it not?

After describing it vividly to Tyler he also developed a keenness for the idea. We haven't made it to Vermont yet, but we realized the syrup making part of the dream was more attainable than we thought.

What do you need to make maple syrup? Maple trees. And we have them in our own backyard. AND they are sugar maples (they are the best kind for making syrup)! So back in September we decided we were going to do this. We were going to make maple syrup.

Tyler got me the supplies for part of my Christmas present and then we just had to wait for the conditions to be right.

On a weekend in January where the day was unseasonably warm and the nights were still below freezing we decided it was time.

On Saturday morning we chose our tree...

And we gathered our supplies...

{ Clean bucket, drill with 1/2" drill bit, spile & hook, and hammer }
First step was to drill a hole in the tree about 3 feet off the ground...

 We drilled approximately 2 inches into the tree at a very slight angle so that when the spile would be ever-so-slightly angled down to help with sap flow.

The sap started flowing out almost immediately, so we knew we picked a good day!

Next, we inserted the spile making sure not to forget the hook, so we'd be able to hang our buckets.

We gently tapped it in with a hammer until it was quite snug in the tree.

And sure enough clear, thin sap started dripping out. We couldn't help ourselves, we had to taste it right out of the tree and it was rather tasteless with just a hint of sweetness.

 We hung our bucket and covered most of the top with tin foil to prevent debris or animals from getting into our sap. I would recommend using the lids that they make specifically for this process, because i think they also keep out rain water pretty well (we had problems with rain a few days later).

And that was it. Our tree was tapped for sap! and we just had to wait until we had enough to start the syruping process.

We didn't have romantic snow falling around us, nor the sound of sleigh bells, but it was a beautiful day (I was wearing a tank top as you can see above) and it seemed to be perfect conditions for optimal sap flow. The best part is that it was in our own backyard and we were able to keep an eye on the whole wondrous process. By 9am the next day our bucket was 3/4 full!! Ready to made into syrup. But that's a story for next time...