Thursday, March 10, 2011

Maple Syrup, Sap Gathering, How To, Production Of, To The Table

In a small rural town, where I live, we often depend on each other for many things. There are calls for help, friend needs a helping hand, working together to hunt/fish/gather food, and keeping/storing food for long term uses. Sometimes it might be helping with slaughtering animals for food, gather mushrooms in the woods, smoking (my department) and canning.

This time of year, in so many small towns, out in the rural America, there are folks hanging out in their sugar shanty cooking down maple sap to make that REAL yummy syrup, maple syrup. There are many prizes/rewards for such hard work, its a social event between generations, the work in the fall to prepare the wood needed for this event. Its a rumor, or in my case a proven point that this is a mans event. Hundreds of gallons of sap needed to make enough syrup for consumption as well as to sell at the market or to visiting city slickers. If your from the city, that isn't meant as a cut down or insult, its used just like you might call us country folk. Some of the images you will see might even make us look like hillbillies, but were not like that at all.



So here are tom Jr. (t) and Tom Sr.(T)  this is a bucket carrying system that allows him to carry up to 10 gallons of sap to the tractor, being that he has to travel up hill, his shoulders/neck hold the weight.

This is a food safe 55 gallon collection container attached to a three point hitch. The hitch isn't used in this application and is used only to hold the barrel as its driven down along the higher road so we can bring the sap up to empty our buckets, and return to the woods to gather more. Wrapped with gray tape, a screen is attached to catch large debris.
This picture shows the color of the sap collected, the sample on the left is getting a rusty color, and the right is clear. Illustrated here is what to use and when to stop tapping the sap from a tree.



Collecting of the sap from the trees can be tough if you don't plan ahead. Tom using his tractor, will drive down the road while sap that is being collected is dumped into the large container. On this day, a collection had taken place, and just a few left for the purpose of this blog. I also wanted to show you different methods of hauling the heavy buckets.
Lets head into the sugar shanty AKA Syrup Shed....    

  As you can see, the fire is going, and it takes about one cord of wood to get 19 quarts of syrup. Depending on what type of hardwood maples you tap into, the amount of sap used to make one gallon of syrup will be different. With sugar maples, the final product will be a light color, and only 35 gallons of sap is needed. With the most common standard hardwood maples, it takes 48-52 gallons of sap. Those numbers aren't defined enough because depending on the sugar content of the sap from the year before will be different, from year to year.

In this photo to the left side, on the shelf is a holding tank, it holds sap that is slowly allowed to drip at a rate that the water is boiled from the square pan. It is filled from the barrel that is mounted on the three point hitch from the tractor. There are also two holding containers inside the shed so while collections are going on, a constant supply of sap is near by to keep the square pan full. A small sock place at the end of the tube that drips into the square pan, is a last stage type filter prior to boiling the sap. The sap will again be filtered from stuff collecting during processing.

Also, sap will continue to be added, and the fire stoked/banked through out the night and day until enough of it is ready to be set for final processing. In this case, this is Toms sugar shanty and oven, and owner of the trees we used to gather the sap from.

During the production of maple syrup, in some kind of manly type relationship or social acceptance, a cherished drink is made and shared amongst the men working together to produce this wonderful product. The drink called, in this neck of the woods, Slurple is a traditional method of acceptance and is shared during the processing.
I do admit that this isn't the only drink shared within the processing shed, its the best and most self sufficient.
tommy, bottle in hand, expresses his joy of being the subject of this shot. tommy is Marks brother-n-law as well as a good friend to Mark. I am a good friend to Mark and met tommy through Mark. tommy is the fungi king of all time I mentioned before. He is a centennial soul, and a great fellow to be around, there has never been a dull moment when he or Mark is around.
As the sap boils, it is sifted to remove bits that collect in it as it boils, Tom is shown here using his screen to remove the waste at the top. A small sample is shown once the gravity level is checked, and brought to about 31-32 its cooled, graded to Grade A Amber Medium, canned and stored for future use. I have canned it and used it 5 years later without any noticeable change to taste.

I had a great time today, spending time with good friends, doing something together, and talking about being self sufficiency and making our own. Though Tom, tommy or Mark don't blog about being self sufficient, I can assure you they are as much as me if not more. 

Tom bragged a lot about being self sufficient and how proud he feels about living the fine life. He even mentioned how he wish he had moved to Alaska, a place where he says his skills could be used. He build his own house from wood he cut, and bragged up his own level of skills.



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