The Grovestead

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Category: Maple Sugaring (page 1 of 3)

An Abundance of Maple Syrup

Abundant maple syrup

Hi everyone. This is Becca, Rory’s wife. We have decided to team up a bit more as we share what we are loving and learning about our life in the country. We feel a sweet call to share all that we are experiencing and will do that by each posting on this blog, as well as sharing more of the day-to-day on instagram and facebook. We’d love to invite you to join our farm fun on instagram or facebook, both @thegrovestead.

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My friend Lacy came over for a play date recently and was telling me of a workshop she and her kids had attended at a local nature preserve. The topic was on tree tapping and making Maple Syrup. She said to me, “I couldn’t believe the instructor never once told of the health benefits of maple syrup! It was just the how-to, but I wanted him to explain to my kids why Maple Syrup is better than corn syrup and cane sugar.”

I looked at her from across the table and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about. What are the health benefits of maple syrup?” And she went on to tell me amazing and incredible things! I told her the man leading the workshop likely didn’t know any of the nutritional side, just like me…having tapped trees for five years, and totally oblivious to the goodness of maple syrup.

Maple sap collecting in buckets

 

But it is! Maple Syrup is full of manganese, zinc and antioxidants.  And of all the sugars (because let’s be honest, we are still talking about sugar here! And sugar is not great for you!) it spikes your glycemic index the least. Your body seems to know how to process and respond to this natural sugar better than the white stuff.

Later she sent me an article from the New York Times talking about how for centuries South Koreans have gone into the woods to collect maple sap, and then sat in a hot room with a heated floor to drink FIVE GALLONS of sap in an evening as a way to detox their body of the winter and prepare it for the summer. The article is fascinating, and I kept telling Rory while we were boiling all of our sap down into syrup that we really should give it a try…

All this to say, there is so much to learn in this life! Here we had the how-to down, but Lacy helped us understand another part of the why-to.

Checking on maple trees and sap collection

 

Our actual why-to is that for us, tree tapping is just a novel and amazing way to celebrate something incredible that is happening on our property each year. God is taking all of that melted snow that has absorbed into the soil and is pulling that water up through the roots of the trees (sap flows upward!) out onto every branch. That once-snow-now-water is full of good things allowing the tree to come back from dormancy. It literally pulses new life into each branch and tiny bud that will burst into a leaf.

And there is so much sap pumping through these trees that we are able to tap into that abundance without harming the tree and enjoy the sap too.

Kids watching their dad evaporate maple sap

But tapping Maple Trees is no small task. When the trees started flowing this year Rory and I had to muster up every bit of enthusiasm because we knew what was ahead: lots of nights carrying five-gallon buckets from the woods into the garage. Lots of days standing by a fire watching water boil. Lots of late nights standing over a pot in the kitchen waiting for the sugar content to be exactly right. Lots of even later nights canning that syrup for storage.

Dad and son evaporating maple syrup

But we still do it every year because it is amazing to us. It is a wonder that all of this free sap is running up into our maple trees. Our favorite lesson on our hobby farm has been how God doesn’t operate in scarcity. If you plant ONE zinnia seed in the spring, you will be able to gather 600 zinnia seeds in the fall, off of that one shoot. If you plant ONE corn kernel, you will harvest a stalk with 3-4 ears, all filled with hundreds of new seeds for next year. If you tap one maple tree, you will soon have buckets of sugary sap, waiting for your enjoyment.

It is a lot of work. It is a lot of time. It is a lot of soot on my best kettle. It is a lot of campfire smell in all of our clothes and coats. But the things God shows us while playing in his creation is the actual fun of it all. And it is fun…just look at all of these glorious colors! The colors vary based on the time of the season you collect your sap (the lightest color is the earliest sap) as well as the rate of the boil and the temperature when it was collected. And it all tastes delicious and now we can say is slightly nutritious.

Abundant maple syrup in many colors


Spring Ahead

Spring has arrived about 6 weeks early in Minnesota this year. That’s not to say winter won’t stop by again, but today is the 3rd day in a row of 60+ temps and will be the last day snow can be seen on our property. Even the grass is starting to green up!

Spring is always welcome here. However, Spring on a Hobby Farm means lots of work! And I’m not fully ready to come out of hibernation yet.

The seedlings are planted and growing well: tomatoes, broccoli (which Becca says she wants every week of the summer), lettuce, and a variety of flowers.

tomato seedlings

The chickens are laying abundantly, after about a 5-month hiatus during the coldest months.

Chickens enjoying the warm weather

All the maple trees are tapped and flowing a full 3 weeks ahead of season. I just hauled in 5 more gallons of sap after taking this picture. 30 gallons collected so far, waiting to be evaporated.

Collecting maple sap in buckets

Tapping maple trees started early this year

Since the sap is flowing, it is also the best time of year to graft trees. I made my first attempt, grafting a branch from a HoneyGold apple tree onto the MacIntosh nearby. The yellow HoneyGold was one of a few trees we planted without ever knowing how the fruit would taste. It turned out be delicious! Like a cross between a pear and an apple, but the texture of a HoneyCrisp. Needless to say, we want more HoneyGold and a simple way to expand the supply is to graft onto another tree.

Graft of apple tree

If successful, the MacIntosh will be bearing both red and yellow apples!

 


It’s Tree Tapping Time!

Reposted from JoyfullyBecca.com:


We can hardly believe it is already time. The past two years we haven’t tapped our maple trees until mid March, but here we are, end of February and the sap is flowing. Rory is trying something new this year, using tubes and five gallon buckets. He’s excited not to have to empty the bags each day and pour them into the buckets. In theory, he should be able to simply replace the bucket when it gets almost full with an empty bucket.

Ivar is quite the helper and stuck with his dad the whole time, even though it was very windy and chilly. Hattie and I were out for about as long as it took to take this picture. She was not a fan, even though she was adorable in her little peek-a-roo. Elsie lasted a bit longer but came in the house crying that she was cold and wanted to read books on the couch with me and Hattie.

I am growing more convinced we were created to live on an agrarian calendar. Having annual traditions tied to the time of year always feels so, so right. It was fun to be out and seizing the day, watching Rory putter with buckets and hoses and for all of us to be getting a little vitamin D. I believe spring fever has hit the grovestead.

Here are pics from tapping our trees in 2013 and our how to,  2014 and the trip that got it all started

 

 


Evaporating sap and making maple syrup

Evaporator boils down the sap

The trees are tapped and the sap is flowing. Finally its time to turn those gallons of sap into delicious maple syrup! If you have not already read part 1 and part 2 of this series you may want to go back and do that first. In this post I’ll cover the evaporating process and finishing and bottling maple syrup.

Evaporating the sap

By far the most time intensive part of maple sugaring is the evaporating. Sap is 98% water, give or take, so depending on your setup you can spend many dozens of hours and an obscene amount of wood getting the sap boiled down to syrup. The last two years I hodgepodged together a cinder block evaporator. It worked, but was terribly inefficient and a bit dangerous. This year I had plans to build my own steel box evaporator and lucked out when a local welder offered to sell me his own at a great price.

Wood-burning firebox

The firebox holds a tremendous amount of wood and the stainless steel pan can hold up to 15 gallons of sap at a time, although it is more efficient to boil a shallow than deep pan.

The goal is to keep a roiling boil for hours on end. Because it takes so much wood and takes so long to get everything heated up, I usually wait until I have 20 gallons of sap collected before evaporating.

Sap vigorously boiling on the evaporator

The time required varies greatly by the weather. Colder, windy days take longer than calm, sunny ones. Next year I’ll make better use of firebrick and concrete blocks to insulate the steel from the wind and focus as much heat as possible to the bottom of the pan.

While the sap is boiling I have a second pan warming sap on the edge of the evaporator. Pouring cold sap into a boiling pan would kill the boil and slow down the evaporating. So everything you can do to pre-heat the sap saves time in the end.

Warming pan warms up the sap before being added into the main pan

As the sap boils impurities foam up to the surface. Every so often I use a strainer to scoop off the foam.

Straining foam out of the sap

That’s pretty much all there is to it. Feed the fire, add sap, strain. Repeat. The evaporating is done when the sap is reduced to a dark brown color and the sap/syrup is thickening. It’s usually pretty obvious when the consistency of the sap has changed.

Sap is reduced and ready for finishing

Because the final stages of evaporating need to be tightly controlled, most people will “finish” the sap indoors on a standard range.

My new evaporator has a nifty drain spout. To get the sap/syrup out all I need to do is turn the spigot.

Draining the syrup out of a spout on the evaporator pan

Finishing the sap

The final stage of making maple syrup involves getting the syrup to the right consistency. There are a couple of ways to do this. You can either measure the buoyancy with a hydrometer or use a candy thermometer to measure the boiling temperature. The boiling pot has to be watched closely because once the sap turns to syrup it can boil over quickly. I lose lots of syrup this way every year, despite my best efforts.

I like to boil at a medium-high heat taking periodic measurements with the hydrometer.

Hydrometer measures the density of syrup

Periodic checks using the hydrometer ensures the exact right density

Measuring 32 baume on the hydrometer means the syrup is done

After ladling syrup into the cylinder container, I drop the hydrometer in and it floats to the measured density. A reading of 32 Baume (or 66 Brix)—the red line—means the syrup is done. Alternately, a candy thermometer reading of 7.1 degrees above the boiling point of water (219.1 for most of us) is considered finished syrup.  It’s important that the measurements be accurate, otherwise the syrup may be too weak and not store well or be too dense and crystalize. That’s why finishing inside on a controlled stovetop is preferred.

Filtering and bottling the syrup

Now the syrup is complete and ready to bottle. First the syrup needs to be filtered. Some people use cheesecloth, but I prefer a dish towel folded in half (used only for maple syrup). In my experience cheesecloth is too porous and allows too many particulates through.

Filtering the finished syrup

I can usually filter 2-3 pints at a time into a 2-quart bowl. Then I pour into pre-sterlized canning jars and screw on the lids.

Pouring filtered maple syrup into jars

Syrup does not need to be sterilized in a water bath like other canning products. As long as the containers are sterile the boiled and filtered syrup will remain extremely hot for a very long time and create a tight seal as they cool down. Tip: screw the lids down as tight as possible, then the next morning screw them a little tighter, if you can. I’ve had some jars lose their seal days or weeks later, presumably because the lids were not as tight after everything cooled down.

When you do open a sealed jar, it has to stay in the refrigerator from that point on. Pure maple syrup is different from the brown-dyed corn syrup you find in the grocery store and will spoil if not refrigerated after opening. Properly sealed syrup will last at least one year, but likely won’t make it that long once you have a taste for it.

Last step: cook up some pancakes and enjoy.

Enjoy your pure maple syrup with pancakes and a good cup of coffee.

 


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