Wednesday, April 5, 2017
The Gift of the Maple
Many years ago, Deus Ex Machina and I were in a hardware store. I don't remember what we were getting. There on the counter were maple sugaring spiles. We knew we had some maple trees on our property.
So, I held the spile up to Deus Ex Machina and asked if he wanted to get some. He was skeptical, but game. Not wanting to appear too naïve (i.e. ignorant), we carefully inquired about what else we would need to tap our trees. The list was pretty short.
** We'd need one spile per tree we planned to tap.
** We'd need a 5/8" drill bit to drill the hole (and we only needed that particular size, because that's the size most commercial spiles are made).
** We'd need something to catch the sap in - any food grade bucket or container will work.
** We'd probably want to cover the bucket or container to keep out debris and rain.
** We'd need a way to attach the container to the spile.
The hardware store employees outfitted us with three spiles with the little hooks for the buckets, one 5/8" drill bit, and three food grade buckets.
And we tapped our trees.
We used plastic bags from the grocery store to cover the buckets.
That first year, we boiled the sap on our propane grill. It took a long time, and being an engineer-type, Deus Ex Machina studied the problem. He told me that to get maximum efficiency during the boil-down phase, it was a surface area to blah-tee, blah, and my eyes glazed over or something.
What he meant, I discovered, was that the sap will boil the best and most efficiently if more of the pan is on the heat surface - shallower, wider pans work best.
A decade later, and we have almost twenty taps with buckets and lids. We also have two 5" deep pans that are approximately 24" square. We usually boil outside over a wood fire. We end up with a really dark, smoky-flavored syrup. It's good, and we like it.
There's not a very big learning curve for boiling sap to syrup. Once the tree is tapped and the sap collected, all that's, really, required is a pan to hold the sap while it boils and a heating surface. We use wood. Some people use a fancy evaporator. We've used our propane grill. We've also used a propane turkey fryer. My friend boils her sap in her kitchen on her electric stove (she has a direct vent to the outside to keep the steam from soaking her kitchen).
Today, I am boiling sap on my woodstove. It will also take a turn on the electric stove, but while I have the woodstove hot enough to boil water, I'm using that surface to save on my electric bill.
It will probably take longer to boil it that way, because I'm using a big, deep kettle, instead of a shallow pan, but it's okay, because I don't have anywhere else that I need to be. It's a slow, rain-chilled day, perfect for a slow, warming activity, like boiling sap to syrup.
I made a cup of tea earlier, using the hot sap rather than water. I didn't need to add any extra sugar. It was sweet enough to be wonderful.
I know that I consume too much sugar. We all do. I also know that if my family could cut our sugar consumption that with our twenty taps, even in a bad year, we could make enough maple syrup to satisfy our sugar need for the whole year.
There's so much that's possible. Usually, it's just a matter of deciding that it needs to be done ... and then, just doing it.