I didn’t intend to sugar this year, but here I am out in the snow tending my evaporator pans! I have become more involved in our home business since our homeschooled daughter has gone off to college. My husband and I decided that my time would be more profitably spent working in the business than spending money on propane and time on boiling down sap.
Whether you spend money on pure maple syrup in the store or time boiling down the sap from your own trees, sugaring costs money. On the other hand, when you do it yourself, there is no question about what you are pouring over your pancakes or using to sweeten your coffee!
March is usually the month for tapping trees and boiling sap. This year sugaring started a couple of weeks early. I’m boiling down sap I’ve collected in February and have been holding in ice cream buckets and food grade containers in my refrigerator.
The weather is calm and cold. I had to wait until the air temperatures where in the high 20sF so that the gas in my stove would flow properly! I could smell hardwood smoke from other people’s furnaces up the street—a number of people in my neighborhood heat with wood. It is good to be outside breathing the winter air and hearing the birds fussing in the trees around me. I boil all afternoon, and slowly the sun goes down and the sky is lilac and rose and filled with high wispy winter clouds.
This year, for the first time, I separated the sap from our sugar maple from that of the silver maple on the north side of our house. (Each tree is big enough to take two taps without stress.) The syrup from the sugar maple is a higher quality than that of the other maple: higher in sugar and higher in grade (lighter colored). It takes a lot less sap to make the same amount of syrup than the silver maple.
The flavor is different as well. The sugar maple has a “true” maple flavor—like that of artificial maple flavoring only much milder. The other maple syrup has more of a caramel color and flavor (which is just fine with me!). Any kind of maple tree including box elder can be tapped for sugaring, but none have as high a sugar content as the Sugar Maple, which means longer boiling times.
Some people are disappointed in the subtle flavor and thinner consistency of real maple syrup. I have come to appreciate its subtlety and sweeter flavor. Store-bought syrup seems too thick, bland, and slimy. (In a word, it gacks me out.) I use it as a sweetener in hot and cold breakfast cereal, fruit salads, smoothies, coffee, as well as over pancakes. I had been buying agave nectar to use as a sweetener until it struck me that I already had pints of natural sweetener in the house already! (Duh!)
One thing I learned the hard way this year is to never walk away from your pans near the end of the process when the sap is running low. I looked out the kitchen window and yelled, “OMG! It’s on FIRE!” I turned the heat off (another nice point for propane) and the flames died down pretty quickly—the smell of burning marshmallows hanging in the air as I salvaged what I could. (That little bit of finished syrup was dark indeed! LOL) Fortunately I had transferred most of the sap from this warmer pan to my finishing pan before it caught on fire.
Yes, this is another way that I retain my sanity during the long Wisconsin winters, two and a half more months to truly warm weather. (I hope!) Begonia