Thursday, April 4, 2013

All sugared-out

Mother Nature has spoken and declared the end of our first maple sugaring season.

There are signs of spring everywhere, all the snow has gone, the ice has melted on the lake, our bulbs are starting to poke through and the trees are starting to look fuzzy. There's not been much sap running recently because we've had a bit of a cold snap, but yesterday I collected a fairly decent amount and boiled it down on the stove inside. It didn't smell quite right as it was boiling and when we got down to syrup it definitely tasted weird.

We have two smaller trees with one tap each and one big tree with two. The two small ones have been producing the majority of the sap recently so I thought it could have been the sap from the big tree that was causing the funny taste. This morning I boiled down a small amount of sap from the two small trees but had the same issue. It's still sweet but there's no distinctive maple flavour and a there's a funny taste that's hard to describe.

From what I've read I think my syrup is tasting "buddy" meaning the trees are starting to bud and causing changes to the sap. I don't want to waste loads of gas boiling down sap that doesn't taste good so I've decided to call it day for this year, even though there's a lot of sap running today. It's hard to see the buds on the trees because they are so high up, I even got the binoculars out and couldn't really tell what was going on up there!

Apparently there are ways of getting rid of the bad taste, such as filtering with carbon, but then you can't call it "pure maple syrup" because it's been adulterated. I've only got about 300ml of yucky tasting stuff so I think I'm just going to bin it.

I don't think we got a bad haul for only four spiles, and look what I've spotted, somehow we missed this big guy when we were tapping, but I reckon he could take two taps so next year I might up our production by 50%! 

Once the leaves come in I'm going to try and identify the maple species we have because I don't actually know whether they are sugar maples or not.

Here's the full collection of syrup minus two small batches of maple candy and two pints worth of sap that we gave to friends to boil down themselves. Most of what we produced was fairly light in colour, Vermont Fancy grade, but we did get one batch that was slightly darker. The light stuff is very good for making maple candy and maple cream which can be used as a frosting on cookies and cakes. I was hoping for more of the darker, stronger tasting, stuff but there's no controlling what you get. It could be due to the weather we've had or it could be affected by our location, we get quite a lot of cold Northerly winds coming up off the lake.

The cloudiness in some jars is due to something called niter which is the minerals from the sap which precipitate out as the syrup cools. It's harmless and can be removed by re-filtering the syrup, some of the jars have some settled out at the bottom. Not quite sure why I got one batch that hasn't gone cloudy, I filtered them all the same way! I hot-filled all the syrup into very clean jars so hopefully it should store okay in the pantry, but if we do get any mould apparently it's okay to scrape that off and re-heat the syrup and bottle it again.

Overall it's been a really fun project, but part of me is glad that we're done.
I've taken the taps out and the holes should heal over without being plugged. Time to clean up all the equipment, put it away for next year and get ready for some warmer weather!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

First Ski Race


It's coming to the end of our first ski season here and the kids have completely amazed me with how quickly they have picked it up. Today the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge was at Bolton Valley where we have been skiing all season. They set up a slalom course that anyone could have a go at, and medals were awarded for the top 3 times in each age/gender category.

Here are the kids waiting to start, the drop from the gate seemed scary to me, but they weren't fazed!


A blurry one of them at the first gates:

They both made it to the finish without incident...

...and both of them came away with a medal!

In case you're wondering P also had a go and he came away with are respectable 6th for his age group. Maybe next year I'll be a little braver and try it too!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Maple Time!

Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the USA, so what's a girl to do when she moves here? Make maple syrup, that's what!

I found this website:,  and got cracking.

Step 1: Find some maple trees.

I did this last fall, (it's much easier when there are leaves on the tree), and marked them up with bits of string. The best type for tapping is sugar maples because they have the highest concentraion of sugar in the sap, I don't remember which type ours are but they seem to be working okay.

Step 2: Tap trees.

Two weekends ago we went out armed with a cordless drill and and half inch bit and drilled into the trees. We have four spiles across three trees, big trees can take more than one. We pushed the spiles into the holes and immediately sap started flowing out from them. Sap flows when the temperature is below freezing at night and above freezing in the day. Apparently it doesn't hurt the trees but it does feel a bit mean stealing sap from them!

Step 3: Collect sap.

The spiles come with little hooks to hang buckets from but we're using half-gallon milk bottles to collect the sap, so I improvised with some wire coat hangers and some bungee loops. On a good day the bottles need emptying several times so I had to go out and buy some food-grade five gallon buckets. That first week I was grateful we had a few days where the sap didn't flow because I was running out of buckets. Sap will go bad if it is stored for too long, there are bacteria in it that will start digesting the sugar, which is not helpful when you're trying to make syrup.  Luckily for us the temperatures were low enough to store for a few days until we worked out how we were going to boil it.

Step 4: Boil sap down.

It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup so that's an awful lot of water that has to be boiled off. Unless you're trying to strip wallpaper it's recommended that you boil outside. We don't have any dry firewood stacked so I did something I never though I would and bought a propane burner designed for frying turkeys! I found a big stainless pot at Goodwill, strained my sap (to remove little bits of bark etc...) and got boiling. And boiling, and boiling. It took a long time, almost 3 days in fact for about 20 gallons of sap, so for the second batch I bought a catering steam tray insert which has double the surface area of my big pot.

Step 5: Boil the sap down some more.

Once the sap has boiled down quite a lot it's a good idea to bring it inside and finish it off on the stove so you can watch it closely. My first attempt went too far and I had to turn it into maple candy by beating it as it cooled. My second attempt, with the help of a thermometer (it's done when it gets to 7 degrees F above boiling so 219F), produced about half a gallon of syrup. Apparently the syrup gets darker as the season progresses. Vermont currently has its own grading system and I think our first batch would be classed as Grade A Fancy. Hopefully over the next few weeks I will have some different grades to compare so I'll write more about the grading system then. We've had a bit of a thaw and the sap hasn't been flowing the last few days but it's looking like it's getting cold again so fingers crossed there's more to come.

Welcome to my new blog

Almost a year ago P changed jobs and after 5 years in Ohio we re-located our family to Vermont. It's been a fun year and I'm sure there's lots more to come, so I'm starting this blog to share our adventures here with our friends and family. Maybe it will convince some of you to come and visit us, we'd love to see you!