Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sugaring

Yesterday I took a day trip with Mel and Kristin to NH. We went to Parker's Maple Barn to learn all about tapping Maple trees. I put this in my calendar a full year ago, since I missed the season last year by not knowing about it in time. (There are so many neat things in New England you can't hit them all in a year.) So, come this year I told Mel, "We are doing this in March!" She called me a week ago and off we went. As it turns out, this weekend was their peak "Sugaring Season"! 
We started with a tour. Here's what I learned:

The Business:


-- Years ago, a man named Ray Parker began tapping his trees for sap. He eventually spread his business by asking his neighbors if he could tap their trees in exchange for free maple syrup. He would do all the work, he just needed more trees. Eventually he was tapping over about 5,000 trees. That's a huge business.
-- It takes about 40 gallons of sap to yield 1 gallon of syrup. Lots of work for minimal reward (Quantity that is. Their fresh syrup was definitely quality)

Tapping:



-- To properly tap a tree, all you need is a spiel and good weather {warm days and freezing nights} February to April is the approximate season span, with the middle of March the season's peak.



-- If you tap a tree too late in the season, the sap will yield bitter syrup called 'Buddy's syrup'. I asked if there was a way to tell the syrup would be bitter before you went through all the trouble of cooking it down. Nope. Just have to know the season and 'read' the weather. 
-- Different trees produce different types of sap/syrup. I suppose that's intuitive. Maple trees are the sweetest because of the high sugar content of the sap. 

The Sap:


-- The sap looks a lot like dirty water when it comes from the tree. It's clear-ish and very thin.
-- Leaves are what make the sugar in the sap during summer time. 
-- The more leaves on a tree, the sweeter the sap in the sugaring season.
-- Trees get sweeter as they get older because they have more limbs and, therefore, more leaves.
-- Sap is found in the outer 2 inches or so of the tree bark, so you only have to 'tap' into the tree with the spiel that far to extract the sap. 
-- A good sugar content of a tree's sap is around 3 or 4%. Seems low, but that's nature's chemistry! The higher the % of sugar in the sap, the more syrup a bucket of sap will yield. For example, if a bucket on one tree has sap with a 2% sugar content, and another tree gives you a bucket with sap having a 4% sugar content, the 4% bucket will yield roughly twice as much syrup using the same amount of sap after the cooking process is complete. 

 The Syrup:


-- It must be boiled for many hours to evaporate off all the water. When it's complete, it has a 67% sugar concentration. They measure this with a hydrometer and a small sample of syrup.
-- Syrup is the color it is (brown-like amber) because it comes from ground water the tree has absorbed. Duh! But I'd never thought of it. I think I always assumed it was artificially colored like everything else in this world~


-- It's very cloudy and must be filtered and graded. 
-- All sap from the same type of tree will have the same flavor, just different strengths and colors.
-- Strengths and colors are derived from varying sugar concentrations and how long it has been boiled.
-- The lower he sugar concentration, the longer the sap must be boiled. The longer it's boiled... the darker the syrup.
-- Typical boiling range is from 6-20 hours. 
-- The darker the syrup, the worse the grade (A, B, or C) Grade B is good/fine for cooking.



video


Fun Facts:


 --  Imitation maple flavoring always tastes a little off because... Nobody knows the correct or exact maple sugar chemistry. It seems to be nature's secret, which, I love
-- After the official tour, we three girls got a private brief tour from the owner {below, feeding the fire}
Kristin then asked if she could feed the fire boiling he sap, and he was like, "Sure!" 


He took our photo, and we chatted by the fire about how he came to own the business, how the barn on site was restored and now functions as a restaurant, and just generally what life and responsibilities are like to own a maple sugar tree-tapping company :) 

... and yes... we DID then go promptly to the barn and have homemade pancakes DRENCHED with fresh maple syrup. It had to be done.




If I have some how failed to convince anyone not living on the East that living here is anything but amazing... then please let me know. I'll try a little harder to keep showing just how great it is out here...because it seriously is. There's so much to do!

And next time you buy syrup, try looking to see where its made. I recommend Parker's~

3 comments:

  1. Sad I couldn't go with you. Isn't it so interesting though? I loved it when I went ages ago.

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  2. Are you for real?! You learned how to tap trees? Wow! This was such an interesting read, I never knew the amount of work that went into it! I bought real maple syrup when I was in Vermont in high school and it was the most amazing syrup I've ever had. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. The first time I read through this I was in a hurry and mostly enjoyed the photos. This is really a great summary of the whole process. I wish I retained information as well as you do. Really really neat post.

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