Day in the Woods with the Sap Part 2....
Here we are! Last week was tapping the trees, and now comes the gathering Sap and making Maple Syrup. Very exciting process, I have to say. And quite the workout, as I said in the last post, it hasn't changed much in 100 years. You still have to go out on the hillsides and gather it up in buckets. First thing to do in the morning is get the Arches fired up. Arches are where the syrup cooks.
You also need to fire up the stove in your Sugar Shack, because it may be raining and chilly and where else are you going to cook lunch. (or Dinner as they say in the Country) Slam'er would also like me to point out that just because in the three blogs she's been so far, she's wearing exactly the same outfit, this doesn't mean she HAS no other clothes. (I hadn't noticed, this IS kind of funny. Woods fashion doesn't change much either)
The Arches get VERY toasty. And you have to watch your Sap at all times, because if it scorches, you're done for.
The logs go only in the front of the Arch. The heat is then drawn all the way down and up and out the pipe you can see at the back. The back pan is where the Sap goes at first, quite a bit of it. When it cooks down enough, it gets transferred to the front pan, where it will cook down even more, all day long, until it is Syrup. I'll tell you how you know when this happens in a bit here.
The Sap goes into a holding tank, in this case, an old milk holding tank. Most years, it, and several others would be full. Sadly, this is a very bad year for Maple. It's far too warm. For syrup making you want nights that are in the 20's, and days in the 40's or so. The Sap rises during the day, and more or less freaks out at night, goes back down, sort of thinking "OOPS! What am I doing, still winter, I'll try again tomorrow" Which of course means you get a lot more Sap.
When it is this warm at night, the Sap just nips right on up the tree and stays there. The worst year the Slam'er Family has had since they started in 1991, was 60 gallons, the best, 300. They estimate they might get 20 gallons this year. Not so good.
Here's the Gator parked by the holding tank. See the grey box on the back? The buckets are all far out into the woods, so we drive the Gator thru the paths, which are like little roads (with names even) stopping every so often to walk down the hills with buckets, going from tree to tree, emptying the hanging buckets into the carrying one, and then dumping them into the mini holding tank on the back of the Gator.
This is a lot of work, but a fine leg workout. The hills are very steep and the rule is, doesn't matter if you fall, just SAVE YOUR SAP.
There is a second holding tank, with a long hose that runs from the top of a hill, down to the main holding tank. This is so you don't have to drive all the way back there every time your mini tank gets full. You simply dump the Gator Tank, into the second tank and down it goes.
This is what it looks like from the bottom of the hill, that's the Shack and the main tank.
This is the view from the top. Pretty nifty, eh?
It isn't ALL drudging away with heavy buckets, up and down steep hills, slipping in the mud, trying to save sap as you go tumbling down, there's plenty of time for breaks. And beer. Of course. If you have enough beer, you can drive a Gator thru just about anything, I do believe.
The corn is an interesting feature, out at the Shack. It seems too many people were running into the stove pipe, burning themselves horribly, some scarred for life, so they've hung a lovely bunch of corn in front of it, as sort of an early warning system that death is near.
They took another approach inside the Shack, where the same thing was happening, but it's just as effective.
And if the mood hits you, you can enjoy some swinging. On a Maple tree, with bucket, of course.
One of the BEST snacks ever, is eggs hardboiled right in the sap, kid you not. You get the eggs from the chickens that morning (once again being pecked half to death) bring them down to the Shack with you, and pop them on in. They taste sweet, which you might think is an odd taste for an egg, but trust me, if you even get a chance to try this, go for it.
Back to the woods. This tree had five buckets on it, tho it's kind of two trees that grew together, so it doesn't really count.. Tho it does have a handy place for sitting, if you are adventurous. (The girl IS, trust me)
Sometimes you get a bucket that looks like this, which is very sad. It means tree water has gotten into the Sap, which would make it taste bad, and you have to thru it on out.
When the syrup starts to get near done, it look like this, boiling away, and you have to check it often.
With this: A Hydrometer. It hangs handily there very close to the Arch, you use it often, a few minutes can make all the difference.
You fill the tube with boiling syrup, the thermometer is inside, and when it is done, it pops up at exactly the right place, which is marked and then you MOVE and get the syrup off.
You do this by sliding the very full pan of boiling syrup off the Arches, and rest it on a 2 x 4 you have nailed across the shack for that purpose. You also have to get a sheet of tin over the fire, so you don't scorch yourself. Doing this with out spilling boiling syrup all over yourself, or burning up is a wee bit tricksy, but remember, this is the Farm of 1000 Ways to Die. All in a days work.
It's good to have a Milk Can Handy and ready at this point. There are three separate filters, held in place with some high tech clothes pins. See how little things have changed here?
Slam'er is holding the milk can steady, while Papa Slam'er pours boiling molten syrup into the can. JUST ANOTHER WAS TO GET MAIMED OR DIE HORRIBLY out here, Folks. Didn't seem to bother them, and I admit, didn't bother me at the time. Didn't until I saw the pictures and thought about it.
In it all goes.....Pure syrup. Pure very hot syrup.
All that's left is to bottle it on up. And of course, pour out a small glass and pass it around the group.
I've never tasted anything so sweet. Ever. Took about ten hours of work yesterday to get this, and much more on earlier days, tapping, collecting but I have to say:
So worth it. I'll do it again.
Love and Maple,