Saturday, March 14, 2015

Making my Own Maple Syrup

Today I went to a Maple Syrup Festival. If you know me even the littlest bit you'll know that I LOVE maple syrup. I grew up in New England, I settle for nothing less than the real stuff, from a tree. Aunt Jemima doesn't do it for me and I've been known to bring my own maple syrup in to restaurants if I plan to order waffles or pancakes. Eric calls me a syrup snob, but whatever. It's in my blood. My mom grew up in Vermont where she helped with sugaring and tapping the trees on a family friend's farm. So today I got to learn about the whole process of maple sugaring. I learned this as a kid in elementary school. Every March we would traipse out in the mud and sometimes snow to tap the poor lone maple that stood in the front yard. It was a lot of fun and the slightly sweet maple sap was really cool to taste. So imagine my delight when I realized that Michigan makes Maple Syrup too. And that I could make it myself. (Making it myself has become a new hobby, which hadn't really crossed my mind until we moved to WA) So I took notes from the presentations today. It wasn't totally comprehensive, they have separate classes for that, but I think I got enough information to start next year and at least try. Trees that can produce syrup: Sycamore (gives a butterscotch like syrup), Box Alder and Maple trees. Sugar maples have the highest sugar content in their sap at 2%, all others are near 1%. So you need a LOT to make syrup. The ratio is 40 gallons of sap to 1 gallon of final syrup product You tap the trees when you have warm days and cool nights. Tree Diameter to be ready for tapping 10 inches can support one tap +6 inches for each additional tap, but no more than 3 or 4 If you want to be totally natural, use staghorn sumac trees to make the spiles that allow the sap to flow out of the live wood. Thi wood is ideal for spiles because the core is really soft and can be easily drilled out by a small hand drill while the outer wood is hard and stiff. You file one end down to an angle all around so it fits into a drilled hole in the tree trunk and notch the other end to hang a bucket or sap collection device (clean milk jugs work well) When drilling the maple, drill two finger joints into the tree at a slight upward angle, 6 inches away from other holes that might have been drilled. The south side of the tree will have more sap flow because that is on the sun side but big trees can be tapped all around. You can identify a maple by the grey bark that peels up on one lateral side. Not a J peel in a peel from the bottom. You boil the sap down and test doneness using a maple syrup hydrometer. You want 67% density. If you go too far you've just made maple syrup candy, congratulations. Just don't burn the sugar. Now I have a new feature to check when we buy a house. Does it have maples?!?! And possible sycamores. And Staghorn sumac.

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