Maple Syrup

Hello readers!

Fall has come to the hinterlands – leaves are dropping, winds are blowing, and the temperature swings from hot to cold and everywhere in between in a day. I recently got to thinking about maple syrup, and my experiences with it at the farm. We produced about twenty gallons of the sweet stuff this spring.  I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days (and a night) in our sugar bush and thought I’d tell you all about it. Interested? Let’s go!

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The Trees

The best trees for tapping are, of course, sugar maples – the ones that have the really brilliant colors in the fall. Other maples – red, black, silver, or even box elders – can also be used. The trees need to be at least eight inches in diameter and in good health to be tapped. Trees larger than twelve inches around can have two taps.

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Sap

Sap is produced by the xylem, or new wood, in the tree. The purpose of the xylem is to transport water and nutrients throughout the tree. During winter, trees store starches in their roots by converting them to sugars. Once things start to thaw out, the tree absorbs moisture and dissolves the sugars, forming sap. When the nights are below freezing and the days are above it, the sap migrates up to the branches and we can tap it, starting syrup season. The season ends when the trees bud and the sugar concentration in the sap changes.

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Tapping

Tapping is done with a drill and a spile. A new hole is drilled each year, then washed out and given a spile. At the farm we hang buckets or sap bags from the spile, but large operations can use vacuum tubing for more efficiency.

 

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I like our method better – the vacuum tubing makes the woods look like some sort of bad science fiction set. Anyways, as the sap drips into the bucket or the bags we go around collecting it, usually in larger buckets, then filter it before adding it to the evaporator. Ideally, collection is done at least once a day, since the sap can go moldy if you let it sit.

Gross.

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Evaporating 

It takes about forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Think about that – a forty to one ratio. No wonder real maple syrup is so expensive!

We bring the sap to our sugar shack and filter it before adding it to the evaporator. The evaporator is basically just a big metal tub with a tap set on top of a big wood burning stove. We save the ashes from the stove and put them around tomatoes and eggplants to keep bugs away during growing season.

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Some evaporators are much fancier, with shaped bottoms, seals, and pressure gauges that automate the process. Sometimes we put another smaller tub on top for more filtration, but not always. We also have a smaller propane fired evaporator for finishing the syrup, since the big one can burn the syrup in the blink of an eye if you aren’t paying attention.

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The sap is boiled until it reaches the right density – we use a hydrometer to test it. Once it reaches 66° on the Brix Scale, it’s done! Kill the heat and it’s onto bottling!

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Bottling 

Once it reaches the correct density, we drain the syrup off into a smaller pan with a filter. The really, really hot (don’t touch it – it’ll burn you!) goes through a filter in the pan, then through a cheesecloth filter and into the bottle. The bottles are sealed and voila! The syrup is now ready for the market. Pretty cool, right?

I think so.

So, back to syrup itself – maple syrup has a cool and complicated history. It was first made by indigenous peoples in the northeastern part of North America. Why northeastern? Temperature – it has to freeze at night for the sap to run. The indigenous peoples concentrated the sap by putting hot stones into buckets of sap to heat it, or allowing it to freeze overnight and getting rid of the water that froze on top. When Europeans arrived, they boiled the sap in large kettles over a fire. The first evaporator was patented around the time of the Civil War.

A couple of interesting facts –

Most of the world’s maple syrup comes from Canada. The other major source is the United States.

Abolitionists tended to use maple syrup and maple sugar over cane sugar, as cane sugar in the United States was usually produced using slave labor.

During World War Two, cane sugar was rationed and families were urged to use maple syrup and sugar instead, and to produce their own if they lived far enough north. Recipe books were even printed and distributed to help families make the switch.

 

Sunshine Meringues

Hello Readers!

Cold weather and grey skies got you down? I have just the solution:

Admittedly not the best picture, but hey - It tastes delicious!

Admittedly not the best picture, but hey – It tastes delicious!

Sunshine Meringues!

Now, I’m not much for frilly names and froufrou titles (unless it’s the band), but I really think “sunshine” describes these treats perfectly.

So, what are they?

Simply meringues filled with pineapple curd! It’s an excellent use for the curd and the egg whites left over when making it. It’s light and crispy on the outside and creamy and tart on the inside – perfect for parties or just dessert.

Meringues are very simple to make. You just have to make sure it’s just egg whites with no yolk, or the meringue won’t form properly.

The pineapple curd recipe is from Alaska From Scratch, and boy, is it amazing!

Onward!

First, make your nests. Make one recipe basic meringue and place it in a pastry bag. You can also use a plastic bag with the corner cut off. I like using a pastry tip, too, but you don’t have to.

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Next, pipe out circles on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Make sure to make them solid circles. Pipe another circle on top of each one, leaving the center open.

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Bake for one and a half hours at 275°F. Turn the oven off and let them stay in the oven another hour with the door closed. Remove and keep of the cookie sheets for another two hours before filling.

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While the meringues are baking,prep your pineapple curd. I used canned pineapple for this, but if you have a fresh pineapple use that!

In the bowl of a blender or a food processor, puree pineapple until you get a texture you like. Toss it into a saucepan. Over low heat and cook until bubbling.

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Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, and salt. Temper the mixture with small amounts of the hot pineapple puree, whisking to keep the egg yolks from curdling. Once tempered, whisk into the remaining pineapple puree.

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Cook mixture until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in butter. Transfer to clean storage jars.

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Once the meringue nests have cooled, use a pastry bag or a spoon to fill the centers with pineapple curd. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Sunshine Meringues

Ingredients

1 recipe Pineapple Curd

1 Recipe Basic Meringue

Procedure

  1. Preheat oven to 275°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Transfer meringue to a pastry bag. Pipe out circles onto the parchment paper. To form the nest walls, pipe a second layer of circles on top, making sure to leave the center open.
  3. Bake for 1 ½ hours, then turn the oven off.  Keep meringues in the oven another hour with the door closed. Cool on cookie sheets another 2 hours.
  4. Using a spoon or pastry bag, fill nests with pineapple curd. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  5. Enjoy!

Pineapple Curd

Ingredients

1 c Pineapple Puree

1/3 c Sugar

3 Egg Yolks

2 Tbsp Corn Starch

2 Tbsp Butter

Pinch Salt

Procedure:

  1. Heat pineapple curd in a large saucepan until bubbling.
  2. Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Temper and whisk into the pineapple puree. Heat until it comes to a boil and remove from heat.
  3. Stir in butter.