As I was processing 5 1/2 gallons of maple sap on the stovetop recently, I sat and sipped some Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey in between the bouts of clearing the foam, refilling the pans, etc. I remembered the many trips to the mountains and buying smoky or infused maple syrups. They were amazing. Knowing that this batch would not have the smoky notes to it because it was done on the stovetop (snowing and wet that day), I began thinking of ways to infuse the syrup with the peated whiskey I was enjoying. In doing so I stumbled across a recipe for Maple Liqueur which combines both maple syrup and whiskey.
The recipe seems relatively easy – it’s equal parts whiskey and pure maple syrup. I set aside 6 ounces of my beloved whiskey and drank the remaining bit left over from Christmas. I plan to add 6 ounces of maple syrup, seal it, refrigerate it for 2 weeks + and try it out. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out, but it sounds like it may be worth setting some maple syrup aside each batch if this comes out good.
This past autumn we decided to purchase some maple tapping supplies and try our hand at making our own maple syrup. We bought a kit that came with three buckets with lids, 3 spiles, a drill bit and a beginners guide. We also bought a funnel set with a micro-filter attached, a full size steamer pan, and a 5 gallon food grade bucket.
After doing some initial research we went outside and marked three trees that were big enough and healthy enough to warrant for tapping. After marking the trees with blue nylon tape we added a reminder to our calendar to start paying attention to the weather come mid-February. We were looking for the nights to be freezing or below freezing and the day time temperatures to be above freezing as this elicits the flow of the sap.
A few days prior to mid-February we were beginning to see this weather pattern emerge. Wanting to make sure we tapped early enough, but not too early that the tree will heal itself over the hole, we did some additional research and decided to take our chances and tap the trees since we were seeing depressions around the tree where the snow was which gave insight that temperatures were warm enough to tap.
Tapping the trees was relatively easy. We trudged through the snow and ice and drilled between 2-4 feet high on the tree, at an upward angle, below a branch or above a root and on the south facing side of the tree for maximum sun exposure. Then we tapped the spiles in, attached the buckets, and viola!
After a couple of warm days we were already noticing some sap in the buckets, which was exciting. We emptied the buckets daily into the 5 gallon food grade bucket and set that aside in the shade to keep it cool. We had about maybe a gallon as the week was ending, and because syrup can spoil after about a week, we decided to use this gallon as our test batch.
After reading the horror stories online about the immense amount of moisture and sticky residue trying to process maple syrup on your stovetop, we decided to try our first batch in the steamer pan on the fire pit outside. We weren’t really prepared – we didn’t have enough dry firewood available and we started too late into the day – but we tried to make the best of it. Starting the fire around 2pm on Sunday, we had “Pickles” (our four year old) help gather tinder and get the fire going. We then emptied sap into the steamer pan, which proved to be a bit difficult since it had a good layer of ice on it.
The fire helped melt the sap and before you knew it were we steaming the sap and trying to get it to a boil. After a couple of hours of adding tinder, restarting the fire, and trying to get it to work outside we realized that we didn’t have enough dry wood to get a good boil on the sap going. With daylight waning we transferred and strained the sap into a large stovetop pot using a funnel and brought it indoors.
Once inside we were able to get a rapid boil going quickly on the sap and also noticed it was indeed putting off a ton of sticky moisture onto the oven vent, cabinets and wall despite having the screen door open to let moisture out. We decided to employ a small fan on the countertop to push the moisture away from the vent, cabinets and wall and towards the open screen door. This worked amazingly and kept the sticky residue from settling anywhere in the house.
From there we kept an eye on the sap, which boiled down very quickly. We kept de-foaming the syrup as it boiled down and we watched the color changes from clear, to golden, to brown. After about an hour or so we switched to a smaller pan to allow the remainder of the sap to boil down into syrup without scorching the bottom of the pan. Soon enough we had maple syrup!
After cooling down the syrup, we sterilized an old maple syrup bottle by pouring boiling water into it and letting it sit, then used the smallest funnel with the mesh filter to transition the syrup to the bottle. The quantity produced was very small, maybe about 4 ounces, but that’s expected from that amount of sap. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of maple syrup. We do anticipate, however, that we will have more sap in the coming week or two as the weather stays warmer during the days and we have less days during the week where it stays below freezing.
Overall, this was a great learning experience. Depending on how much sap we get weekly we may just opt to boil it down inside the house like we did this time as that was the quickest and easiest path (a little over an hour to boil down), not to mention the warmest (it was only 20 degrees outside).
We learned that employing the fan inside to push away the vapors worked like a charm and that maybe we should pull the sap off the burner a little sooner next time (we slightly overcooked ours).
It was fun tapping the trees with the family, being outside and around the firepit, gathering kindling, pretend skating on the inches of ice still in the yard, and taste testing.
It was fun tasting the sap directly from the tree, which is simply sugar water, and then trying it at various stages in the process and tasting the different levels of sweetness as it approaches the final product.
The taste of the syrup was great. It had a nice smoky smell from the wood fire outside and that transferred into the taste as well. We found it interesting that the syrup we made almost had a birch bark flavor to it, though all three trees we tapped were maple, not birch. It tasted very fresh!
It’s 2022, yet still no flying cars. Who would have thought?
This year we are hoping to focus much of our time, effort, and money on hygge and health. We are excited about this focus because we feel it’s something we need in our lives to help combat our chronic stress. You see, much chronic stress has developed for us over the years because we have feverishly and compulsively reacted to the demands of each thought. This had led to packed schedules and an overactive focus on ‘getting stuff done’ to return to a place of peace in our lives. The problem with this approach, however, is that the more we get done the more there is to do. Thoughts are never ending.
Reflecting back on our lives over the past decade and a half we have always felt the need to have space to process, to think, to be. We have lost this in recent time and since our thoughts are never ending, and we cannot create more time, the best thing we can do is create space. In creating space, we want to create space that is cozy, relaxing, intimate. There is a word for this type of experience, it’s called hygge (pronounced hoo-ga).
Naturally, we did what any crazy person who is trying to learn to relax does – we grabbed books from the library and researched hygge a bit. We then crafted a list (see below) of both indoor and outdoor activities we could look to when we have space created and want to break out of constant churn of to-do’s and settle into something like reading a book out loud to the children while drinking a hot beverage or lowering the lights, putting the fireplace on, and building a blanket fort. This list would serve to function not as a to-do list but as an ‘at-a-glance’ worksheet to help us think differently since our brains are so stuck in automatic thought patterns that focus on action.
In order to build space into our routine, we deflected some of the items on our schedule that normally take up that space, let go of the guilt that accompanied by not doing those things, and adopted a mindset of flexibility (i.e. it’s late, but let’s let the kids be up another 30 minutes and not feel so much pressure about bedtime since we’re doing this thing as a family right now).
With regards to health, I have decided to alter my diet this year and adopt the diet the family has, which is gluten free, dairy free, and egg free. I have also decided to eliminate beer, go off coffee, cut back significantly on eating out (think greasy, non-quality food) and late-night snacking, and to focus more strategically on eating a diet that could assist my autoimmune disorder. I went through the cabinets, got rid of the food that did not align and began aligning the shopping list with my new go-to’s which includes items like fermented foods and drinks, chicken breast, bone broths, paleo granolas, tuna, salad, and yogurt.
The transition to adopt the GF, DF, EF diet wasn’t as hard as I’d assumed. I mostly ate that way at dinner because it was a family meal, I just had to adapt my breakfast and lunch staples and what I snacked on. Cutting the beer was emotionally difficult because I enjoyed it, but I didn’t always feel the best after drinking it anyways – I typically felt lethargic and tired. Learning to ‘want’ fermented foods has been more difficult, but with time I know these things will help my gut health and help me feel my best.
We’re also focusing throughout the year on making our own fermented foods, crackers, breads, etc. because it’s cheaper and healthier. We even tried making our own yogurt, but that didn’t turn out so hot. In addition to changing diet and making more of our own foods, we also are added more supplements into our routine – taking cell salts, apple cider vinegar, probiotics, and upping the kids’ daily vitamins. I even decided to get a manual treadmill for the basement (which was cheaper than my gym membership and gave me greater flexibility). In a truly hygge-esque moment that treadmill box has now become a fort for the kids and takes up 1/8th of our bedroom!
We’re excited for 2022. We know we won’t accomplish all this overnight and it’ll be a year long pursuit of making small changes regularly but having the focus on hygge and health helps to keep us focused as we make decisions each day.
We hope your year is full of anticipation and promise!