Sunday, March 29, 2015

Boiling Sap!

Today was the first of (probably) several sessions of boiling down all the sap I am collecting from our maple trees.  This is a long process, but it was a picture perfect day today and I didn't mind being out there.
 I gathered all the supplies (a chair, a cup of coffee, a book, my tablet)... Oh, and of course, got the evaporator, plenty of firedwood, and the sap.
A beautiful day to boil sap!

This is looking inside the 55 gallon drum where the sap has been stored. In our recent below zero temperatures, it froze. I had to chip away a hole in the center to get at the unfrozen part.  This freezing actually helps concentrate the sap a bit more,  because the ice is really just plain water, and what's unfrozen has a slightly higher sugar content. It makes for a bit less boiling. I estimated there is 50-60 pounds of ice in this barrel.  It felt more like 150 when I tried to move it.

Get a good roaring fire going.

The process is pretty straightforward, at least for the first 8 hours.  Pour the raw sap into the shallow trays on top of the burner, and boil away. Keep adding more sap as it slowly evaporates and the levels in the pan drop..  Don't let it get too low, and if it starts to foam or boil over, a tiny drop of olive oil or butter will prevent that from happening. Keep the fire as hot as you can.  Any kind of wood can be used. Scrap lumber, whatever. Pine is good because it burns hot and fast. We had lots of scrap pine.

What you are doing is taking a solution with  about 2-3% sugar, and boiling away the excess water, to concentrate it down to a 67% sugar solution.  So we are talking LOTS of evaporation that has to happen.
As the sap cooks, it changes from a clear, water-like liquid, into an increasingly amber colored and thicker
one.  After awhile, you can begin to smell that maple sugar aroma. Mmmmmmm.

Although I brought out a book, my tablet, a cup of coffee and a chair with me, I don't think I sat down for more than 10 minutes all day, and only got one page of my book read.  There was just stuff that needed doing.  I split the pine boards we were burning, so they would burn better. I had to shovel off the snow on the roof of the shed because it was melting and dripping right into the sap pan!  I had to go make the rounds twice to gather more sap from the buckets (its like job security, those trees just keep pumping out the sap!) I set up my small Rocket Stove to pre-warm the sap so that it didn't slow the boil down so much when I had to add extra to the pans.
And then there was lunch, and the neighbors came by, and , well, before you know it, the day has gone by and we are still boiling. I say "we" - it was just me out there,  but I guess I count the dogs and chickens. Steve was at a 20 mile road race today, or I'm sure he would have been here helping. I was supposed to go, but hey, sap doesn't wait! This had to happen today.
I don't know why this picture insists on being sideways. I am just showing that it's now late afternoon and the moon has come out. 

The last rays of daylight silhouette my best-producing maple tree.

It's late enough that the Chickens have gone to roost.  Their main roost is an old orchard ladder .  The boss hen gets to have the highest spot. See her? Doesn't she look bossy?
A shaft of late-day sunlight seems to focus right on the evaporator and the cloud of steam rising.

As things get closer to being done, I have to monitor the temperature closely.  I want to take the "almost syrup" off the stove here when it reaches 217 F.   The actual goal is 219-220, but that can happen really fast, and it's easy to burn the syrup, so that last bit of boiling will be done over a controlled heat.

Boiling Sap- Its Not Hard, Just Requires Patience

It's Dark and I'm Still Out Here

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