Thursday, May 22, 2014

Maple Sugaring in Tennessee???

    I wrote this back in January but am now just getting around to posting it.  Keep this in mind while you read.  Hope you enjoy!!!!
    It has been a while since I blogged and let me tell you why.  Here in Tennessee winters are mild and wet.  We usually experience very few temps below 30 degrees.  It has, however, been an unseasonably cold winter this year.  We just had the largest accumulation of snow since December 2010.  A whole 2 inches (snickering), it did however shut down schools for several days and make road travel very treacherous for many.  Luckily, since we homeschool we just enjoyed the beauty of it all and continued to do school(the downer for being homeschooled.) 

     Now to the topic at hand.  Maple Syrup.....MMMMmmm!  Can't you just see yourself sitting down to a nice pile of hot pancakes with butter and pour your very own homemade maple syrup all over them?  I began thinking of "sugaring" last fall after reading several blogs about ladies and men who sugar in Virginia.  It got me thinking...Can I do that here?  I began researching on the internet for any and all articles, blogs, books, I could find about sugaring in the south.  Let me tell you, there isn't much out there.  I did come across a article in a paper close to home and there it was in all its glory staring me in the face.  YES!!! Someone has done it, it is possible.

      The first thing first, you must have trees that can be tapped.  To my amazement Maples are not the only sap producing trees.  Sweet Birch, walnut, sycamore and hickory are a few of the other species of trees that produce enough sugar content in the sap to use.  So in late fall before all the leaves fell off the trees we set out to mark them.  We used white spray paint, but I suppose you could use orange tape.  You just need to know what kind of trees you have.  They also need to have adequate sunlight so they heat up nicely and you have a good sap flow. 
     I checked several websites that sell the equipment and came across one on Amazon that I liked.  It is a basic plastic spile(this is what the sap drips out of the tree from) and some tubing that fits onto the end of the spile and goes into your collection bucket.  You will probably have to buy the spiles and the tubes.  There are other metal spiles that a bucket hangs on, but in my opinion lets in too much debris...think clean sap.  So with my spiles, tubes, several 5 gallon buckets, a drill, hammer, and 5/16" drill bit we took to the woods.
     My kit came with 10 spiles.  Rule of thumb is 1 spile per tree unless they are very large then you may use 2 or even 3 on a very large tree.  I don't remember exact diameter of tree, but you can do that research on your own.  We put out our taps and checked that afternoon....nada....big goose egg!! I almost wanted to cry.  I returned to the websites I found most helpful and discovered there is a temperature requirement.  It has to be below freezing nights with warm daytime temps in the 50's preferably.  Well, duh....we had a warm spell so no wonder.  I tried to wait patiently and next morning I ran down to check after my morning chores.  There is its simplest form.....SAP!  I was giddy.  I ran back to the house and got a bucket, (mind you it was only a cup).  I checked the rest of my trees and they were all dry except one.  So out of 6 trees tapped I only had 2 producing.  What???  I was totally confused.  What was I doing wrong??  I pondered for 5 before my dad, who had been watching me, encouraged me to tap trees in a different area of our property.

     Reluctantly I agreed and he and I sat off the next afternoon in a tapping frenzy.  The weather had been just what all the sites said was ideal, so with nothing more that 2 cups a day from my trees we moved to the woods behind his house.  I drilled the hole at an angle and a little deeper and before I could say anything the sap began to flow.  We just looked at each other in amazement and I think I even danced a little jig.  He is all about quantity so he wanted to tap the biggest trees we had and we did.  We also tapped a close friend of my dad's that lives up the street from us and had great success there too!  That afternoon there was a considerable amount about 2 gallons and so I began the boil. 

     Now, if any of you know the ratio of sap to syrup, you know that boiling my 2 gallons along with the gallon and half I already had, only gave me about a fourth of a cup of syrup.  But I was simply amazed with the process and the change.  It turns to a beautiful amber color and the smell is like nothing else.  The taste is the sweetest, most concentrated you have ever put in you mouth and it tastes just like it should....sweet victory.....I had done it.  I was so proud of myself and wanted to get my hands on more....only the rate it was coming was not fast enough for me.
     Then cue the snow storm I was talking of earlier.  After the 2nd day we were able to get out on the roads and I traveled to our friend's first and what I saw when I came down the hill almost made me faint, the buckets were full and spilling over on the ground.  I raced back home because I did not have anything big enough to get 2 and a half gallons in.  Then checked my dads and the same story second verse!  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.  The seven-year-old said to me, "MOM WE ARE SO RICH!"  Yes son, in sap, we sure are!!  I think he saw my excitement and it rubbed of on him.

     The buckets have been running over every day since, they did slow some today but another freeze is coming so I am expecting another rush after it again.  I have boiled down over 60 gallons of sap with a gallon and 2 quarts to show for it.  I took a break today but will be back at it tomorrow.  This, for me, is like anything else I decided to try, several people thought I was out of my mind...including hubby, and he would tell you that.  I need to try something with my hands and then if it doesn't work you might convince me that it can't be done.  Now as I sit here writing this I have a batch cooking on the front porch.  The reality is, in homesteading, nothing comes easy and making maple syrup certainly is no exception!!!