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Light at the End of the Tunnel

March 14th, 2011

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.

What’s your favorite way to enjoy maple syrup?

Sugaring Season is in Full Swing

March 1st, 2011

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.

What chores get you out and about this time of year?

Finishing Off our Maple Syrup

March 12th, 2010

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 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, ______________?

Prime Sugaring Weather

March 5th, 2010

As part of the Real Food Challenge over at Not Dabbling, we’re all posting about real Food today. Can you get any more real than homemade maple syrup???

Yesterday was the most beautiful day here in Ohio. It was sunny and warm (well 40 degrees which is warm this time of year). The morning was frosty, with temps down in the teens. All the sap that was flowing the day before had stopped and was frozen in the spiles. It didn’t take long for them to thaw out with the sun and warmth and start flowing again. These are prime sugaring temps; you want it to be above freezing during the day and below freezing at night. The rest of this week and next week look like it’s going to be beautiful, especially for sugaring.

At first we weren’t getting much sap so we saved it for about a week until we had 15-20 gallons. We stored it outside in big pots to keep it cool, since sap will spoil. The sap is flowing nicely now, so we’re keeping up with it by boiling constantly. Yesterday we collected 7 gallons of sap from our 20 taps. Mr Chiots heads out several times a day to collect sap since we don’t have big sap buckets that hold a lot.

We bring it inside and let it sit inside to warm up a bit. Then I strain it through a coffee filter into a big stock pot on the stove, this strains out any wood chips, sticks and any other dirt. We warm the sap in this stock pot and when it’s boiling we transfer it to big kettle that’s boiling outside. We do this to keep the big pot outside at a rolling boil, if you keep pouring cold sap into the boiling sap it will take longer to reduce into syrup.

At the moment we’re reducing the sap over a big propane burner by the garage. Our fire pit is buried in snow, as is all the firewood. If the sap starts flowing more rapidly with the warm weather we’re going to start reducing half of the sap over the fire and make kettle syrup.

I haven’t finished any syrup yet, I ran out of time last night. I plan on finishing our first batch today. I think we’ll end up with about a half a gallon from our first boil down.

Sugaring is the first signal of spring for me, it begins the outdoor work. Soon enough I’ll be spending the crisp days building rock walls and hopefully making some new garden space.

What’s your first outdoor activity in the spring?

Tap Tap Tap Maple Sap

February 21st, 2010

These are the words to the first song I ever learned to play on the piano when I was a little girl. I still remember sitting at the old piano in the basement plinking out those keys while singing along, all the while waiting for kitchen timer to ding so I could quit practicing. You can guess why I was humming this song yesterday.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the temperatures climbed slightly above freezing. Not quite prime sugaring season yet, but we wanted to get some of our trees tapped since tomorrow the temperature is supposed to be close to 40. We were just going to put one tap in the tree we can see from the kitchen window, so we could watch it. When it started flowing we would install the rest of the taps. As soon as we tapped the tree a little drop of sap appeared on the end of the spile. It was warm enough yesterday to start the sap flowing.

Since the sap was flowing we put in all 12 taps that we had on hand. We ordered a bunch more spiles a week ago, but haven’t received them yet, they’ll be put in as soon as we get them. The taps produced about a gallon of sap by dusk, it will be stored until we get more before boiling it down. It’s forecasted to be almost 40 today which should produce good sap flow. But then it’s supposed to get cold again next week which will probably stop the flow. We’re hoping for a good sugaring season this year resulting in a few gallons of syrup.

What kind of syrup is in your cupboard, the real stuff or Aunt Jemima?

Reading & Watching

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.