Monday, March 11, 2013

The Mysterious Affair with Spiles

Last spring, the whole family took a Maple Sugaring class at our local park.  We had such a great time that we just knew this year, we wanted to give it a go ourselves.  We have three big maple trees beside our driveway that are constantly dropping some sort of debris all over the place, so it was high time that they started contributing.  We think they are silver maples; which, aren't the ideal choice. They have a higher concentration of water to sugar so they don't make quite as much syrup.  They do, however, produce TONS of sap.  We got about a gallon of sap in the first twenty-four hours with just two taps.

Normally, you would collect for at least a few days before you boiled down a batch of syrup; but, since this was a total experiment, I wanted to try a batch before we spent two weeks collecting and storing sap.  For our first try, I just strained and poured it all into one big pot and started to boil.  It was such a nice day out, that I was able to open the kitchen windows to let out some of the steam.  I also made a giant pot of meatballs and sauce since I knew I'd be tied to the stove all day anyway!

The proper way to make syrup is to boil down smaller amounts of sap in two shallow pans and then add the reduced sap to a third pan for a final boil.  It boils down quicker and results in a higher quality syrup.  I will definitely go that route next time, as I had a few issues along the way.

The sap boiled down fairly quickly.  As it reached the bottom of the pan, I realized that the candy thermometer I had prepped was not going to work because the liquid in the pan was now too shallow.  I poured it into a smaller pan; but, eventually it became too shallow as well.  Then, about two minutes before my syrup was done, I cracked the glass on my thermometer.  This left me with no other option than to eyeball my syrup, as I had no idea about the temperature.  Eyeballing caramelizing sugar is definitely not the best way to go.  I didn't burn my syrup at all; but, I did leave it on the heat too long and as it cooled, it grew a bit too thick. 

 It's still delicious and we just microwaved it a bit to use on our pancakes this morning.  The good thing about maple sap is that I will have LOTS of opportunities to get it right over the next week or two!  We picked up a few more spiles to tap our third tree and add another to the largest tree.  I'll try another batch in a few days using the three pan method... just as soon as I pick up a new (and sturdy) candy thermometer!


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