Tuesday, March 03, 2009

our sugarin' story

I think it was last year's Maple Syrup weekend that got my husband Mike thinking about making syrup. He has worked hard and long to make it happen. Here's how it went this past Sunday, with some excerpts from Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
"All winter," Pa said, "Grandpa has been making wooden buckets and little troughs....He made dozens of them, and he made ten new wooden buckets. He had them all ready when the first warm weather came and the sap began to move in the trees. Then he went into the maple woods and with the bit he bored a hole in each maple tree, and he hammered the round end of the little trough into the hole, and he set a cedar bucket on the ground under the flat end."
Well, I don't know why Mike did not spend the winter making wooden buckets and troughs...instead he saved up 1 gallon milk jugs and ordered sap spouts on Ebay. Before the sap began to run, he tapped the maples that he had marked in the summer, and hung the modified milk jugs...

"The sap you know is the blood of the tree. It comes up from the roots, when warm weather begins in the spring, and it goes to the very tip of each branch and twig, to make the green leaves grow. ... Every day Grandpa puts on his boots and his warm coat and his fur cap and he goes out into the snowy woods and gathers the sap."

We used both sugar maples and silver maples. As daytime temperatures began to climb above freezing and night time temperatures dipped below freezing {also known here as 'Mud Season'} the sap began to flow. Each day Mike, or sometimes I, would head out and collect.

"Then he hauls it to a big iron kettle that hangs by a chain from a cross-timber between two trees. He empties the sap into the iron kettle."

This is our 'Sugar Shack' ~ the framework is constructed from the trunks of pine trees, and the walls are stacked cord wood. A tarp over top is its roof...



"He empties the sap into the iron kettle. There is a big bonfire under the kettle, and the sap boils, and Grandpa watches it carefully."
Mike found a barrel stove and constructed an evaporator--the metal framework around the stove that holds the stainless steel restaurant-style pans, which he located at a thrift store...
This is the sap we had collected for Sunday's sugarin'.

Collecting firewood for the stove...

"The fire must be hot enough to keep the sap boiling, but not hot enough to make it boil over."
Here it is getting started. The front pan is used as a warming pan to heat the sap, which is then moved to the back pan to continue boiling down.


"Every few minutes the sap must be skimmed. Grandpa skims it with a big, long-handled, wooden ladle that he made of basswood. When the sap gets too hot, Grandpa lifts ladlefuls of it high in the air and pours it back slowly. This cools the sap a little and keeps it from boiling too fast."

We did not have the problem of our sap boiling too fast--just the opposite, it seemed to go much too slowly...not coming to a full boil. It seems some modifications will need to be made to the evaporator. Though only 25 degrees outside, we were cozy in our little Sugar Shack reading and knitting while we waited...and waited for our sap to boil down.

Finally it had boiled down enough to move to a smaller pan on a propane burner...

As it continued boiling down we watched the temperature, needing it to reach 7 degrees above the boiling point. We moved it inside to smaller pans...

...and finally, 12 hours after starting with 6 gallons of sap, we had maple syrup. We ended up with just over a pint of golden goodness. This is a tiny bit extra that I poured into a recyled bottle...

And I have to say, that on my pancakes the next morning, it was the best maple syrup I have ever tasted!

44 comments:

  1. Gee, I didn't realize that all that sap would evaporate to such a small amount! But it sure looks good. I love the sugar shack! How cozy and warm it looked. I would of loved to sit out there and either knit or spin!

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  2. I loved reading about the sap gathering in Little House when I was young, it seemed so exotic and wonderful. How great to read about you really doing it! I would love to taste that maple syrup. Enjoy it!

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  3. There is nothing as good as real maple syrup. I grew up in Somerset, PA, where a maple festival was held every year. My nephew used to make syrup, so I know how much work it is. But it certainly is worth it!

    Blessings,
    Wanita

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  4. I love your set up, you husband did a great job fashioning an evaporator. We do have a medium sized maple syrup operation, producing about 150 gallons per year. If you have any questions, I'm sure my Rob would be happy to answer them.
    Good job!
    Niki

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  5. woodcoteviews6:08 PM

    Well done Deb, this is fantastic, what an achievement, and great having the excerts from little house books. Loved it .

    Claire

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  6. I just loved that story. I am among those who can't believe how much sap you had to collect to make that little bit of syrup. No wonder it is so expensive in our stores down here!

    I think it is incredible that y'all had that little set-up and found everything you needed to make the syrup. Will you do it again?

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  7. Wow-that's very cool!

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  8. I want it....I'm longing for real maple syrup, boiled down out in the woods.

    I'm going to a maple sugaring next weekend, although I cannot imagine any warmth here in northern Illinois. It's still freezing cold. Do the trees know something we do not?

    - Suzanne, the Farmer's Wife

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  9. It's amazing how much sap you need for a small amount of syrup. Great post. It is so fascinating to me to read about the process. How satisfying it must be to have that syrup, no matter how little, to practice a skill few know these days. Thanks for sharing.
    Debbie

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  10. Wow, six gallons of sap reduced down to a pint? No wonder pure maple syrup is so costly--I'll never complain again!!lol One of my favorite childhood books was "Sleighbells for Windyfoot", and one of the sequels, "Maple Sugar for Windyfoot". It's about a boy growing up with his beloved shetland pony. They are vintage books, written by Frances Frost and I bought them a few years ago on ebay because I loved the memory.

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  11. WOW. That is fantastic!

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  12. That's pretty impressive! Never again will I gripe about the high price of maple syrup in the grocery store.

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  13. I'm just astonished at how much work your husband (and you) put into the operation. What a wonderful way to produce a "homegrown" product for the family to enjoy! I have to admit that I'm a bit envious!

    The sugaring events in Little House In The Big Woods is probably my favorite part of the book...especially when Grandma does the jig!

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  14. Anonymous10:13 PM

    Such patience you all have! So will this be an annual event? I like the cozy in the Sugar Shack and knittin' part too. Thanks for the field trip.

    --Vicki K.

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  15. I am impressed. I would love to taste that on some pancakes!

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  16. Hi~ that was a great tutorial on maple sugaring :-) I love the Little House inserts :-)

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  17. And sap boiled over the wood fire is the best!

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  18. very interesting, I love your sugar shack !!! Clarice

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  19. I just learnt lots of new stuff. I never knew that was the fantastic way to get maple syrup. What a great process.

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  20. What a great post Deb! How impressive to have your OWN syrup.

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  21. How neat!!! Thank you for sharing that with us! I can't believe it takes that much sap to make so little syrup!!!! WOW!

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  22. What a really great post about sugaring, a process of which I know absolutely nothing. I certainly did not realize the complexities involved. Just reading about it and seeing that finished bottle at the end makes me want to jump up and make pancakes. Thank you for sharing this adventure.

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  23. Oh Wow what a process! I love the Little House tie-in! Little House is my Favorite all time books! I just want to know would you do it all again next year?!!

    Jennifer

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  24. Oh my, I can smell it now! And all that time and effort. I will never look at a bottle of real maple syrup the same.

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  25. Oh how yummy fresh maple syrup! Enjoy it.

    God bless.

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  26. No wonder maple syrup is so expensive! I think I won't grumble as much when I buy it. What a lot of work!

    Fascinating post.

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  27. Lovely post. (And I thought I was the only one who saved Cracker Barrel syrup bottles!)

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  28. Fantastic post! I loved reading how you and your hubby made syrup!
    Amazing how much sap goes into a little container of maple syrup!!
    Mary Ann

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  29. You've brought back such a happy memory - me being "big enough" to read my Big Sister's Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

    I so remember reading about the collecting and making the maple syrup without having a clue as to what it was all about.

    From a visit to canada in the late 1990s my folks were gifted with a large jug shaped container of Maple Syrup. It sits in the back of their fridge and I must rescue it next time I'm visiting them (only a couple of months away). Dear Mum doesn't understand just what glorious treasure she has there. The one time we ate some she thought it was too thin. Must email Dad ASAP

    Enjoy your maple syrup glory, relish each drip,
    with huggles and sincere care, Michelle in New Zealand

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  30. what a fantastic account! Thank you. My great uncle owned a syrup farm north of toronto and I remember seeing huge vats about 8ft x 4ft and 2ft deep sitting above a bed of wood fire with a thin liquid in slowly simmering down. Hmm now I wonder if I could get sugar maples to grow in the scottish hebridean islands :D

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  31. This was so much fun to read, I felt like I was there. There is something special about making maple syrup. They make maple syrup where my son goes to school in VT. The school sell it at their school store and every year I ask my son to buy me a bottle of it. The money goes to help support the school. It sells out really fast. Enjoy your syrup, you made "work" sound like so much fun and the end results are worth the time!
    Martha

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  32. I am so totally impressed! Thank you for sharing!

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  33. That is an incredible story. So much work. I bet the syrup was wonderful!

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  34. Wow - with that much effort I can see why they charge so much for it here in the UK :o)

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  35. This was a fun post to read. I love how you interspersed it with the "Little House" quotes. I absolutely couldn't believe that all that syrup came down to 1 pint. Unbelievable.

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  36. Wow, what a project. I would love to live where we could harvest maple syrup.

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  37. Deb ~ I will have to get my younger three children to see this post. They listen to LHP CD's almost every night when going to bed ... and quote much of it back to the rest of us at mealtimes. They will love your pictures!

    So glad to see you had a good trip to Florida. It is certainly one of the nicest times of the year to visit. I hope you even got to see a few early azaleas in bloom (I know March is when they really burst forth down there). Praying your mom is doing well.

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  38. Wow!! I love that. How great that you were able to make your own maple syrup. It sounds like a lot of hard work but well worth it.
    Ruth

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  39. I am blogging our very simple version of maple sugaring as well.
    Thanks for sharing. It is a wonderful process and worth all the work.
    Blessings,
    Tonya

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  40. I live in "maple syrup country" myself (Vermont), but I've never seen a sugar shack as creative as yours!

    There's nothing like the smell of sugar making in the spring.

    Enjoy your syrup!

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  41. Greetings from Oklahoma! I'm linking to your sugarin' story for my March 31st post. It's a virtual bloggy breakfast with someone else's pancakes and your syrup. I hope you don't mind! I've enjoyed what I've read of your blog, and have added you to my favorites list. Blessings! Tammy

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Thank you for taking time to leave a comment--I love reading each and every one! I will try to answer any questions you have in the comment section. Due to the amount of spam, I am sadly no longer able to accept Anonymous comments....Kindly, Deb

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