Part of the satisfaction of sugaring is of course the flavor of the maple syrup, which has no substitute and which cannot be convincingly reproduced synthetically (“imitation maple syrup” is an oxymoron). But another part is its connection to the past, it forms a continuous link back to the first settlers, and to the Native Americans before them from whom they learned the art.
Joe Eck & Wayne Winterrowd in Living Seasonally: The Kitchen Garden and the Table at North Hill
It’s been a busy week of sugaring. In fact, after spending the last 2 days gathering sap, straining it and boiling it down I was ready to settle in with a cup of tea and good book to relax until I realized I hadn’t written this blog post. Luckily, Friday night I spent some time outside documenting why we love sugaring so much. There’s definitely a calendar image in the lot for next year!
Sugaring really is about so much more than making your own syrup. When you buy a bottle of syrup at the store you miss out the entire process, the hope you feel when you tap the trees, the joy of the first drip of sap, the healthy movement from collecting gallons and gallons of sap and walking many miles, the relaxation provided by tending the fire, and the wonder that comes when you taste your first sweet reward.
One of the things we love most about sugaring is that it gets us out of the house during that time of year when we might not otherwise. It’s wonderful to bundle up and be outside during that magic hour when the sun sets. Sugaring is probably one of my favorite activities of the entire year, each year I eagerly anticipate it’s arrival and am very sad when it’s gone. Perhaps it comes at just the right time.
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The weather seemed perfect on Sunday afternoon, so we decided it was time to tap our maple trees. Out came all the supplies, the spiles and jars were scrubbed, the extension cords were brought out and the first tree was tapped.
As soon as the hole was drilled sap was running down the side of the tree before we could even get the spile in. Thirty taps later and we were done. That evening we collected five and a half gallons of sap and so the cycle of collecting and boiling has begun again.
Last year was a long sugaring season and we got 5 gallons of finished syrup. This year we tapped more trees because we think the season will be short, which is the usual here in our area of Ohio. In total we have 30 taps going and are hoping to get a few gallons of syrup once again.
The little black garage cat (aka “The Sweets”) loves it when sugaring season rolls around. Just like her mama used to do, she followed us around the woods as we tapped trees and she runs ahead of Mr Chiots on the paths when he collects the sap. No doubt she’s enjoying some human companionship after a long lonely winter in the garage.
Our maple syrup is precious and since we use it as almost our only form of sweetener, we use it sparingly throughout the year. We’re always happy to reach the next cycle with a few jars of syrup left in the pantry. When I checked last week we still had almost 2 gallons left.
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This year sugaring season has lasted so much longer than the previous two years that we sugared. On Saturday, I finished off what will mostly likely be the final batch of maple syrup for the season. I still have 30 gallons of sap to process and I’m going to try reducing it slightly and using it to make maple vinegar (should be an interesting endeavor).
We tapped our maple trees on February 13th and collected 240 gallons of sap so far. We’ve processed about 210 gallons of that sap so far and have about 5 gallons of syrup. Gathering, straining, and boiling down sap has been taking up all of our spare time over the past month, especially during the last 2 weeks. At least we know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we have a lot of sweet reward in the basement pantry!
What are we going to do with all that syrup? Use it on pancakes, french toast, for sweetening tea and in baking. Fruit sweetened with maple syrup makes a fabulous pandowdy or cobbler. If you haven’t tried sweetening your chai tea with maple syrup you’re missing out! I’m most excited about a fresh batch of french toast as it’s my favorite way to enjoy maple syrup. I’m baking up a few loaves of cinnamon raison bread today and we’ll be enjoying some delicious french toast for breakfast later this week.
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The weather has been cooperating nicely for sugaring season this year. It looks like we’re going to get at least twice as much syrup as we did last year.
In the last 2 days we’ve collected enough sap to make a gallon of syrup. We have every single jar and pan we own full of sap in the kitchen and on the back porch. It’s hard to stay on top it when the weather is just right. We haven’t been able to boil it down over the fire because of rain and storms.
So far we’ve been able to put almost a gallon of syrup in the basement pantry and we have at least enough sap for another gallon. It looks the weather will keep cooperating as well, we may end up with three gallons this year. That sounds like a lot of pancakes and Mr Chiots is very happy about that!
Since it looks like we’re going to get a good harvest of syrup this year, I’m going to try making some maple sugar. I need to read up on how to do it, should be interesting.
The nice thing about sugaring our maples is that it’s a perfect way to get back outside when the weather starts to turn nice again. Even Lucy is enjoying all the extra time out of the house.
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Sugaring season is just about over here in Ohio. We had a warm snap that ended it about a week earlier than last year. Although a short season, it was still successful. We ended up with over a gallon of golden goodness straight from our back yard! Next year we’re hoping to tap even more trees so we can, hopefully, get a few gallons of syrup, then we could give some away (perhaps a jar to a lucky reader). But with only one gallon this year, we’ll probably give some to my parents and we’ll keep the rest.
The hardest part of making maple syrup is the finishing. You have to heat it to a certain temperature; not below or it might spoil, not over or it will crystallize. Everywhere you read you get different information about the temperature or method for finishing your syrup properly. I read this article and used their method, which worked beautifully. I figured the experts at the Ohio State University would know what they were talking about!
After heating to the proper temperature, you’re supposed to strain your maple syrup through a felt filter, some use wool, some use synthetic. Since I’m more of an all-natural kind of person, I bought some organic wool felt from Syrendell at Etsy.com to make my own filter. I figured I could make my own much cheaper. Unfortunately I bought the felt a little too late and it didn’t get here in time, but I’ll have the filters sown up and ready to go for next year.
We ended up filtering ours through a few layers of cheesecloth. We filtered once before finishing the syrup, we poured the hot syrup that was almost finished through cheesecloth to get most of the sugar sand out. Then we finished the syrup and strained again, through some fresh layers of cheesecloth. This did a remarkably wonderful job of straining the syrup. It’s beautifully clear, with hardly any maple sand in it (I’ve read maple sand can make the syrup bitter during storage, which is why it’s recommended to strain it out).
I took some of our finished maple syrup outside yesterday morning to get a few shots, it’s so beautiful! I love these little Weck jars I got to store it in, they should be the perfect size for 2 meals. You can see the two different colors of syrup we got from our two batches. It’s so delicious, hard to believe we made it at home. One thing is for certain, not a drop of this will go to waste! When you take such a hands on approach to making your own food you really appreciate it because you know the effort that goes into it.
What do you recommend for our first meal to enjoy our homemade syrup on:
pancakes, french toast, fried mush, ______________?