Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Uses for Maple Sap and Syrup

Those of you who are unfamiliar with your Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (and shame on you if you are unfamiliar, by the way), might be surprised to hear what a special treat white sugar was just a handful of generations ago. In pioneer times, when "town" might be a day or more drive from the homestead and when supplies might only come in by train every few months, white sugar was a commodity almost akin to gold or steel. It was rationed in leaner times and generally only used for special occasions and when visitors arrived. The amount that we dump into our hot beverages in the morning, sprinkle on our cereal, or use to make candy (gasp, I even do this when there is no particular holiday in sight!) would be considered almost vulgar in those times. Less-processed raw or brown sugar were more common for everyday use, as was molasses. But if your Little House was in The Big Woods, your primary source of sweetness was maple sap and syrup.

It can take up to 50 gallons of clear, watery sap to make a single gallon of syrup, and it takes time to do that evaporating without burning it. When there is a huge vat cooking away within full view in your dining room, it is difficult to wait. So, we have found that there are many good uses for maple syrup, sap, and partially-evaporated sap:
  • Sweeten hot cereal such as oatmeal, farina, or corn mush by adding a splash of syrup or 
  • Replace the water in the recipes for hot cereal with fresh or partially evaporated sap 
  • Top desserts like ice cream or pie with a drizzle  
  • Add it to tea or coffee 
  • Heat a mug of sap for a warm, sweet drink 
  • Replace the sugar or liquid sugar in a cocktail with sap or syrup 
  • Anything else you can think of!
If you have the patience, sap can be cooked all the way down to dry sugar. So far, we have not had that kind of patience, but imagine what this list would look like if we did!!
Maple Sap Cooking Down to Syrup
(It's so hard to wait!)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pigs: Post-Partum Pig Depression

I know the blog has been quiet, but between the normally busy month of May (those of you with one or two kids in school know what I'm talking about) and the loss of the pigs, there has been very little time or subject matter to report. Chickens aren't all that exciting this time of year (with all the baby plants, we don't dare let them out of the run), and I am sadly behind on the gardening. But most of all, Mr. Farmer is filling the void with research, reading, and science- inside projects that I couldn't blog about even if I was willing to go that far off topic, since I don't completely understand them. It is almost as strange to be without the pigs as it is to be without a dog.

It's not just the chores that makes it so different. Admittedly, not needing to go to another site to feed and water the pigs leaves a hole in the daily routine. Even when they were here, the pigs needed attention a few times a day. Watching them frolic and occasionally fight was a great way to pass the time, and who wouldn't love watching new piglets being born?

Not to worry, however. We are holding on as best we can, and before you know it, we will be on to the next project.

Hillbilly Ingenuity: Maple Tapping Time!

That's right; it's that time again....

Sap-Catching Bucket

When the weather is above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, the maple sap flows. In my neck of the woods, that is approximately February 15 to March 15.  So, here we go again!

(Note: Last year we did not have enough cold weather, so the sap was bitter, and we made no syrup at all. This year looks very promising so far!)