Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pure Maple Syrup


There is nothing like the taste of pure maple syrup either on a stack of pancakes/waffles, french toast or added as an ingredient to a recipe. Maple syrup makes a great natural sweetener with the addition of a natural maple flavor.

A few weeks ago we started the 2009 syrup season here at the farm. It is not an easy process in many way as it is just hard physical labor plus it's time consuming but afterwards it is rewarding as we get to enjoy the fruits of our labors. I would like to give you a little glimps of the maple syrup making process so you can see what is involved in making real maple syrup.

Before I get into all that though, I thought I would first give you some maple syrup facts:

--Ohio ranks 4-5 each year among the 12 syrup producing states.
--Syrup season begins when you have above freezing day temperatures (ideally in the 40's) and below freezing night temperatures(ideally in the 20's). This creates internal pressure that causes the sap to flow up through the tree.
--Syrup season ends when it continues to stay warm and the tree buds begin to swell. The sap develops a bitter tastes at this point.
--It takes on average, about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup.
--In a GOOD year, each whole tapped into a tree will yield about 10 gallons of sap which equals about 1 quart of syrup.
--Sugar content of sap ='s clear with 98% water.
--Sugar content of syrup ='s light brown with 33% water.
--Native Americans taught the settlers the process of "sugaring".
--A grove of sugar trees is called a "sugar bush".
--When the sap flows it's "sugar weather".
--Place where the sap is boiled down into syrup is a "sugar house or "sugar shack".
--The word "sugar" is used more than "syrup" in industry lingo because the sap was made into hard sugar instead of syrup because it was more easily preserved.

Here are some nutritional facts about maple syrup:
--Maple syrup contains as much calcium as does whole milk.
--Good source of potassium, manganese and zinc.
--Contains trace amounts of other minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
--Low in sodium.
--No fat or cholesterol.
--Lowest in calories of all the natural sweeteners.

The ingredients of pure maple syrup: pure maple syrup.

The ingredients of Mrs Butterworth syrup: High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Water, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Molasses, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Natural and Artifical Flavor (Caramel Color, Corn Syrup), Artificial Flavor, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Mono and Diglycerid.

Now you tell me which one you think is better for you....the God-given one that is nutritious and only has one ingredient OR the man-made stuff that has no nutrition what so ever in it.....actually it will probably pull nutrients out of you to digest it?

On to the process of making maple syrup:

When syrup making temperatures look like they are going to hold out for a while, you start the process by putting a whole in the tree....we call it "tapping the tree". Sugar and black maple trees are best to tap. If you start too soon your holes will dry up before the real flows start and you will have to retap-- so it is a bit of a guessing game at this point as to whether it's time to tap or not. After the hole is drilled, you hammer in the spiels (the thing that directs the flow of the sap out of the tree) and put on a bucket holder.

After the bucket holder is on, someone needs to follow with a bucket that has had a lid put on it (this keeps out rain, snow and other unwanted stuff) and hang it on the tree. Walking around in the woods and carrying all the items you need from tree to tree in this weather can be exhausting as the snow can still be deep and hard to walk in....or it's wet and muddy everywhere. Our farm has a little over a hundred buckets to hang. My mom volunteers to help us make syrup as she wants to do it 'for the exercise'...gotta lover her...she's getting her exercise alright. She is a big help! Thanks mom.

It is kind of neat to walk through the woods and see all the buckets hanging and listening to the pinging of the sap dropping in them.

Now we've gotta get that sap out of the woods! After the buckets are full, they need to be collected and this can be a great chore at times. Early spring is not the best time to be trying to get around (at least in our low lying woods) as you have to navigate through spots like these to get in and then hope you can get back out with a wagon fully loaded without getting stuck. This is all melting ice that you see in this picture.

In the middle part of our woods, we have a dry stream bed that flows through it and it's NOT dry in the spring. I am sometimes amazed that we don't get stuck more than we do. When this picture was taken, we had over a foot of snow on the ground that was melting (last winter we had a big snow storm that come after the seasoned started and getting around was just horrible). After the snow and the top layer of ground had melted this time, it was another real challenge! When it was time to collect sap, because it was so bad out, the fear of getting stuck was very high on the list. We decided to park the wagon in the higher dry spots and bring the sap to the wagon instead of the wagon to the sap. It's not easy walking through all this plus also carrying 2 five gallon buckets full of sap...and not to spill any of it. We've talked about going the tubing route, but we are not quite big enough to warrant the cost....and that has it's own set of problems.

After the sap is collected, it is brought up to the sugar shack in the back yard so it be watched while it boils down. Yeap- it's a shack, it's not anything pretty, but it works! What you see in the picture is the steam coming off in the boiling down process. It takes a good deal of wood to keep the fire going so it can stay boiling. Someone has to keep stoking it and adding more sap as needed....and round up wood when required.

When enough of the water has been boiled out of the sap, it is maple syrup--well almost-- it's not quite ready yet. We take it off, get another batch going if we have it, and move the boiled down batch to the next stage.
It is now brought indoors for a final consistency check. After that is completed, it's ready for filtering (which is what is being done in the picture above). The filtering process gets out all the twigs/leaves, ants, syrup sand, etc. This can be a slow process especially at the end when the filter is plugging up. Every batch is different in how fast it goes through the filter but it never seems to go through fast enough. When it is done being filtered, it is graded (by it's color) then we need to reheated so it can be bottled.
Now we have maple syrup!

Maple syrup does has many uses beside pancakes. Use it as a natural sweetener in coffee, tea, milk shakes or smoothies. It is delicious on oatmeal, granola and grapefruit. Maple syrup adds a wonderful flavor in baked beans and baked apples. It is a great glaze for meats or vegetables like sweet potato, squash, carrots. Many baked goods are yummy with maple syrup added for sweetness and flavor. There is also a cleanse program called 'The Master Cleanse' that uses it too for it's nutritional qualities.

Some people complain about the price of maple syrup but hopefully you will get an idea of why that price is justified as there is quite a bit of labor that goes into making it. Real maple syrup is, by far, more nutritious (and tasty) than its 'competition'. You should expect more from your food.

With all that, I want to encourage you to get some today and enrich your life by adding some pure maple syrup to your diet. We now have some new 2009 maple syrup to offer but don't wait too long to get yours as it is many times sold out by the time we make more the following year. Small containers are welcomed specialty gifts for family and friends or a great addition to a gift basket.


1 comment:

bloland said...

I just found your blog and wonder about how to purchase your products. I'm local and would love to find somewhere close.