Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Collecting Maple Sap

I'm in my second pair of socks of the day, and it is only just after lunch. With a cup of tea in hand and a nice warm fire in the cast-iron wood stove, I am relaxing after the midday adventure. I took the day off from my paying job today, and the weather outside is mild compared to the crazy winter weather of the past few weeks. So, naturally, I agreed to join Mr. Farmer in his newest experiment - tapping maple trees for sap.

After the usual Surveying of The Realm, I followed Mr. Farmer to the first tree. He tapped it last week, while the weather was still below freezing. The process is pretty low-tech (surprise, surprise): you drill a hole in a tree, jam a tap into it, and hang a bucket from the tap to catch the sap that runs out when the weather first gets above freezing for the spring.  In this case, the tree is just to the side of the house, along the well-trodden path between our house and our neighbor's that the children use to go back and forth. The tap was purchased at the local feed store, and the bucket was a standard 5 gallon from a major hardware/home improvement store that you may have heard of.

Day After Tapping - Sap Frozen in the Tap

We collected a full gallon of clear, watery sap from that first tree. It is quickly proving to be our best producer. Using a clean, bleached gallon milk jug and a plastic funnel, we emptied the bucket into the jug and capped it off. I was extremely pleased, since a gallon in a day is very good, considering you need FIFTY gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup!

Then we moved on to the other trees. After stowing the full jug and picking up an empty one, I followed Mr. Farmer down the path several feet before he turned and said, "Uh, oh. You are going to go right down through the snow. I had better do these myself." I already had snow inside my muck shoes, and it was rapidly melting and soaking my socks. I chose to press on behind him. The second tree had a large, plastic coffee can collecting the sap, and it was nearly full. The third- adorned with an approximately gallon sized, bright green cracker tin- had a fair amount in it as well. Those two trees yeilded about a half gallon of sap- and some very chilly toes.

Mr. Farmer would rather eat his pancakes and waffles with butter alone than ever put artificially flavored "pancake syrup" to his lips. I'm a little less particular, but I am still very excited about the prospect of our own homemade maple syrup... even if it does mean I have to get my feet wet.

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