Lost Arts studio

A lot of the fiber arts I enjoy are things like tatting, netmaking, chair caning, and even weaving, where people will come up to me when I demonstrate and solemnly tell me, "That's a lost art."

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Location: SW Outer Nowhere, Michigan, United States

On the Internet, nobody knows you're a chicken. (With apologies to Peter Steiner.)

17 March 2008

Maple Syrup Q & A

In no particular order, some of the comments and questions I've received over the last couple of years of making maple syrup.

Q: How much syrup do you get?

A: It depends! Mainly it depends on the weather, which determines how long the sap run is. We need above-freezing days and below-freezing nights. Once the nights warm up above freezing, the sap run is over. We've had seasons where the sap ran for a couple of weeks, and seasons where it was over in a week or less. I'm not really a fan of spring that shows up with 70 degree F days, because they wipe out the sap run like that! (finger snap)

It also depends on how many taps we put in. Our property (twelve acres) has scads of sugar maples, so if I had tons of energy and buckets and hadn't already burned up the canning kettle doing this, we could make gallons.

What I decided was that small is beautiful. If I put in one tap, I get around a gallon a day on a sunny day, and I can boil that in the house without making the drywall sag off the walls. Over a week, I can make a pint of syrup, and since we don't slug it down very fast, a pint or two will last us a year.

Q: What is that white stuff in the bottom of the pan in the top right photo in this post? Is it turning to sugar?

A: That's something called "sugar sand". The first time we boiled off, I had never heard of it, and I thought it was maple sugar, too. But instead, it's the minerals the sap is delivering up to the branches and buds of the maple tree, concentrated until it precipitates out into this white, sandy stuff.

If the syrup sits on it, it turns bitter. And it's hard to filter out! It clogs up filter paper, the darn stuff. Here it is in my husband's brewing funnel. I used a square of filter paper under the screen that goes in the funnel, and it clogged it right up. I scrape it into the compost bucket. I figure it came out of the ground, it can go back there!

Comments: It must be wonderful having your own maple syrup trees.

Yeah. The embarrassing thing is that we lived here for probably a dozen years, every spring saying, "We should get some taps and make maple syrup," before we actually did it!

Q: How do you know when to start tapping?

A: I go by a visible sign: when the weeping willow trees around here suddenly turn bright golden, I know their sap is flowing. And so is the maple sap. Another plant that gives me a visual clue is the red osier dogwood, Cornus sericea, a red-stemmed shrub which is red all winter, but to me visibly brightens in the spring. As soon as I notice that brighter color, I'm out there with the brace and bit.

Now I better go check this week's boil-off before I burn something else up!

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Blogger Lucia said...

We have a number of maples on our property, but I don't know how many (if any) of them are sugar maples. I'll have to look up again the distinguishing marks of the various maple species. How big does a tree have to be before you can safely tap it?

12:50 PM  
Blogger Knitting Linguist said...

Thanks for answering all those questions! I'm definitely doing some vicarious living from out here, although I'm guessing that doing all of that work is one of those things that sounds more charming from a distance :) However, one of the greatest treats of my childhood was an annual christmas present of maple syrup from my uncle's trees in Vermont, so that could explain it. :)

1:18 PM  
Blogger Felicia said...

The whole idea of being "in charge" of (in this case!) your syrup is appealing. But truly only from a distance for me. I am not a cold weather fan. And while the whole idea of tramping through the snow and mud has an appeal - I am much better off buying my syrup. Differences truly are what makes the world go 'round. If there weren't people who enjoyed doing it, who on earth would I buy my syrup from???

3:09 PM  
Blogger Bells said...

Wow. I love this. It's so amazing. I want a bottle of it myself. I'll just have to make do with watching.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Alwen said...

They say a tree should be ten inches in diameter before you tap it. If it's too big to get my arms around, that's plenty big enough. :)

12:16 PM  

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