"Sugar Season", the time of year that Maple Syrup and similar products are made, depends on the weather. If the temperature at night is below freezing, and the temp in the day is above freezing, maples (and many other trees) will send sap from the roots up into the branches. This sap can be collected and boiled down (waaaaay down) resulting in a concentrate widely loved as maple syrup.
It's actually a really simple thing to do, but it seems sort of like magic when you first start doing it. It can be done in fall, but we've never tried that. Instead, we love to do our sugaring as a sort of countdown to spring. Sugar Season is more a function of the given weather at any time than the date on the calendar. Some years, January is great for sugaring and February is too cold. If anything, it should be the other way round, but one of the things we love about Weather is that we simply must adapt to it, and wool is just the ticket for that. Anyway, when Sugar Season ends, it means the nights are staying above freezing, and Spring has arrived!
We are located just West of New York City, in South Orange, New Jersey. Come January, we start watching the weather forecast. Cold nights are typically clear nights, which can sometimes bring strong sun and daily high temps of 40F/4C or higher, which will get the sap flowing. Once that happens, we tap our trees.
The maple sap flows from the tree through the spile and drips into a plastic bag.
Ideally, you tap the tree where the sun will warm it. You can generally start tapping a tree when it reaches 8 inches (20 cm) in diameter. You can add another tap for each additional 8 inches/20 cm of diameter. On the bench is the battery-powered drill tipped with a wood-boring bit.
The bag on the left has maybe a quart (almost a liter) of sap inside, and the bag in center about twice as much. On a really good day, a bag might be filled completely. But most days yield much less.
It is really great that the trees are so alive, even with snow on the ground. One year, the drifts were four feet deep (well over a meter) but the trees were really pumping because the days were so sunny. On this day in February, 2013, my notes say this tap produced well over a gallon (four liters) in seven hours.
For us, the main caution about about sugaring is to make sure we don't boil it down too much, which ruins the syrup and makes a mess of the pot. And so, at this point, we no longer attempt to boil the sap all the way down to true syrup (only 2% water) ... once the concentrate is sweet enough, we take it off the heat because it is so easy to remove too much water and we don't think it's worth the risk. We've burned a lot of batches over the years!
In 2016, we gave syrup to the guests at the Baby Shower for our daughter-in-law, Cecy (Alex's wife), and Isabelle, our Granddaughter. On our little suburban plot, we have only 8 trees that we tap, and we usually get close to two gallons (7 liters) of maple syrup. Until recently, that was more than we would ever use ourselves.
In recent years, thanks to our good friends at Up Mountain Switchel, we have learned about and enjoyed a lot of their Switchel, which is easily our favorite drink. Switchel is made with maple syrup, fresh ginger, apple cider vinegar and water. Given that we had so much of our own maple syrup, we decided to make some of our own Switchel ... It's not as good as Up Mountain Switchel, but now it seems we could easily consume as much Maple Syrup as we can produce!
24 December 2017