Friday, March 18, 2011

Final Notes on Maple Sugaring

Pictured here is 'Camp Misery' and 'Fort Muck,' the place where Todd and I spent our last Saturday. What maple sugaring is about (when done outdoors) is enduring damp muddy conditions while nothing exciting happens. We worked over an open fire and managed to reduce 27 gallons of sap down to 14 gallons, the last of which I picked up this past Tuesday. I took a total of 15 gallons from the Lohmans that day, leaving all the tap buckets dry. Finishing it at home on the stove is quite a bit more productive as I can do other work whilst the water boils away on the stove. At the level we produced this year it seemed much more effective to do this work as a cottage industry, taking raw sap to the homes of various participants and boiling it on the stove. I think plans may be in the works for maple sugaring next year, but next time we will be better equipped.
My final yield (after sharing many samples) is 1 pint of syrup and just over 5 pound of sugar. Great trade goods or stock to last the long winter!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Maple Sugaring Update

Pictured to the right is my first two pounds of maple sugar, after samples have been passed out. Photographed by Karen Lohman.

Todd and I went out to boil at the Lohman's on Saturday. We are learning a lot about the equipment we don't have but really do need in order to make this operation more efficient. Discussions are taking place about maple sugaring next year...

At any rate, Todd and I took a full 20-gallon pot of sap and boiled it down to about 8-9 gallons. It was 6pm and time to go so I snagged 5 gallons in the only jug I brought and carried it off home. Today I turned it into sugar. I kept notes on the times today;
9:40AM - Started 2 pans on the oven - these are broad steam-table pans, roughly 14" x 20", and can hold 2 gallons of fluid each. The large surface area helps in speedy evaporation.
10:55AM - 5 gallons has been reduced down to4 gallons.
12:40PM - 4 gallons have been reduced down to 1 gallon, pans are combined.
1:20PM - Syrup is filtered, pan is put into 250 degree oven.
2PM - Syrup still isn't turning to sugar - return to stove for 10 mins, stirring constantly, to boil off more water. Pan is returned to oven
2:30PM - First skim of sugar from pan. As I skim the sugar I let it cool for a few minutes, then pack it into small Gladware containers. Once they fully cool the cakes of sugar pop out easily. I weigh them into 4oz cups on a small portion scale.
2:43PM - Second skim
3:02PM - Third skim, temperature of oven reduced to 225 as the syrup level is dropping
3:13PM - Fourth skim
3:23PM - Pan is pulled from oven, only a small amount of syrup remains. The pan is scraped and the dry sugar mixed up with the small amount of syrup remaining.
3:40PM - all done. Yield from this batch 22oz.

A quick search of the internet showed me that pure maple sugar sells at around$20 per pound, and 4x that for certified organic. Our current holdings are up to 54oz of sugar plus 22oz of syrup. I plan 1 more trip to gather sap (and those supplies I left over at the Lohmans.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Maple Sugaring, Part 1

Our good friends, the Lohman clan, decided to tap their maple trees this year. In mid-Februay Todd and I headed out to their home. In the fall Karen and Bob walked through the woods in the back of their property and marked their sugar maples. We tapped 12 of the trees and have been gathering sap since.
3 Saturdays ago Todd and I went back out for our first boil. We had 7 gallons of sap that first week and boiled it down outside on a wood fire. It did take on a smoke flavor from the fire. The 7 gallons yielded 16oz of syrup in that first run.
2 Saturdays ago the weather was too cold and there was not enough sap to boil. Last Saturday was warm enough but there was too much rain to boil outside. I took 10 gallons of sap home with the intention of boiling it outside on my wood burning stove outside. It was too late on Saturday to set everything up so I just put a 5-gallon pot on the stove to cook down. The weather took a cold turn on Sunday so I decided to do all the work on the stove.
My large cookpot holds 5 gallons and is 9" deep. Once it gets up to temperature on my stove the big pot boils water off at a rate of 1" per hour. I boiled it down in the big pot until there was about 2" left. I then transferred it to a 1-gallon pot to finish it. The 1-gallon pot is 4" deep and boils down at a rate of 1" in 45 minutes. Once the 1-gallon pot got down to 1" the sap has become syrup.

Maple Sugaring, Part 2

Here is the syrup as it came finished from the pot. As you can see there are particulates in it. I put it through a coffee filter to clean it up. The first 5-gallon batch (well, a little less than 5 gallons) I boiled at home yielded 16oz of syrup. I added the 8oz from the Lohman boil to those first 16oz I made at home to cook it all the way down to sugar. The second (very full) 5-gallon batch yielded 22oz of syrup, which I am going to keep as syrup.

Maple Sugaring, Part 3

Here is the syrup after filtering. The color is a little darker than honey, the flavor more butter and caramel. It actually tastes very little like the faux syrup you get from the store. From a 5-gallon pot of sap I got a yield of approximately 22oz of syrup.

Maple Sugaring, Part 4

Here the syrup is cooking in the oven. I set the oven to 200f and left the door cracked with a kitchen towel. As the water cooked off the sugar bubbled up and formed a hard sugar crust. The crust collapsed shortly after the pan was taken out of the oven. I used a fryer scoop to skim the caked sugar out and then put the pan back in the oven a few times. The process took about 2-1/2 hours from syrup to sugar.

Maple Sugaring, Part 5

Here is the final product - maple sugar. I used a small Gladware container and packed it into cakes. As it cooled and some of the remaining water the color lightened some. The yield from 24 fl oz of syrup was 13-1/2 oz of dry sugar. Allowing for losses that estimates out to about 2oz of dry sugar per gallon of maple sap. Most of this will get squirreled away for the challenge next January, but one cake has been sent out on a special delivery ;)