Along the Grapevine


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Making Maple Syrup

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Since tapping a couple of sugar maples last week, the weather has been mostly below freezing, so until today there have just been a few hours of collecting the sap. Today, with relatively seasonal temperatures, we were able to collect two large pots worth (5 gallons each) of sap and have a go at boiling it down to make syrup. The result is 1 1/4 litre from the first pot, and about 3/4 litre from the second. The second is thicker and came dangerously close to crystalizing.

If  you are thinking of tapping your own trees, this site has good pictures and instructions on how to do it. As for the cooking down, we strained the sap through a clean, wet tea towel. For fuel we used up left over propane gas, hooked it up to the base of our turkey frier, and boiled it gently for about an hour.

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You can also do it over any open charcoal or wood fire. It needs to be done outside, as there is a lot of steam, sticky steam, released. Once it was boiled down considerably, to about 2 litres, we brought it inside, strained it again and cooked it even more gently on the stove top for another half hour.

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I then strained it again through a coffee filter into sterilized jars. It was a much faster and easier process than I had thought, although it has to be watched constantly as it can boil very hot and spill over if you are not careful.

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After all the time spent outdoors, I was not up for baking, but was up for a cocktail to celebrate our success at mastering this art. This recipe is from Serious Eats where you will find a number, 12 to be exact, of cocktails using maple syrup. I chose the one for which I had all the ingredients for today – and it turned out beautifully.

Simply measure 1/2 oz syrup, 1 1/2 oz rye, 3/4 oz lemon juice and 1 fresh egg white into a shaker and shake for about 20 seconds. Add 1 ice cube and shake another 10 seconds. Strain into a glass and add a few drops of angostura bitters on top. I am using the leftover egg yolk to make pancake batter for tomorrow morning which will be served with our own home-made maple syrup.

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Hope to try some of the others soon, and maybe even add a few of my own.


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Maple Sap: Our First Sign of Spring

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We have started to collect sap from our two sugar maples. This won’t give us a lot of syrup once we process it, but at least we will have the satisfaction of home-grown maple syrup – the quintessential wild food in this area. I will post more on this once we have collected enough. The varying temperatures are slowing things down considerably, but I am in no hurry. Meanwhile I have been contemplating what else I can do with all this sap.

For example, I have often wondered why we don’t save some sap for just drinking as is, as they do in Russia and neighbouring countries with birch sap. Now I find that here in Canada, B.C. and Quebec have started a maple water industry which is being touted as a health drink, and is sold in stores right next to the coconut water. I hope this trend catches on throughout the country. If you want to read more about this, check here.

For those of you who do not have either sugar maples or a place where you can boil down the many litres of sap to make syrup, you can still take advantage of the season and put your sap to good use. Besides the two sugar maples, we tapped one Norway maple, which I always considered a bit of weed in the tree world. Apparently the sap from this tree is not as sweet, but tasting it on its own, it is very much like the sap from the sugar maples.

Unfortunately, we lost our birches last year, but if anyone has experience with birch sap, I would love to hear about it.

There are lots of uses for this ‘health drink’, such as making tea, porridge, and even beer. My first experiment with it was to make white rice. Simply substitute the sap for water. It gives the rice a slightly sweet flavour, and is really delicious – even on its own. I served it with fish in a spicy curry, and the sweetness was a perfect complement to the heat of the sauce. So if you have an undistinguished maple, all you need is a clean, food-safe bucket with a lid, a spile (you can get these at most hardware stores in Canada) and a drill, or at least someone with a drill. Just be sure to keep the sap colder than 40 degrees F to prevent bacteria from growing. Then you can make your own maple sap rice, or whatever else you fancy.

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