Getting Back to Basics: Maple Sugaring

A week ago I was on Facebook and noticed my friend and her husband had been up until 4:00 am cooking maple sugar down to syrup. The bad part was that was the same week as the time change, so it was actually 5:00 am! I was surprised for 3 reasons: 1) they stayed up that late 2) they had to get up for church the next day and 3) they were making maple syrup!

I contacted her to let her know that I would love to go to their place and photograph them at least collecting. They were still trying to get what they can at the end of the season and planned on tapping a few more trees on their property. I packed up my camera and headed out the next day.

Tracy and Corey live on Tracy’s family farm. When her grandpa owned it, he had about 100 acres. After her father started farming it, he bought another 55 acres. She remembered tapping the maple trees every year until she was in the 3rd grade. At that time her dad started his own business and didn’t have time, so they stopped tapping.

Today, Corey and Tracy are wanting to get back to basics by canning food, raising beef, and many other things.

Rugged BlazerThe first thing I noted that you need (especially on a 100+ acre farm) is a rugged, 4×4 vehicle to drive around. The Blazer that Tracy and her dad pulled up in was just that vehicle. When I stated this note out loud, Corey responded, “And a wild female driver to drive it.” I think he got a glare from Tracy at that point.

After gathering some supplies, we loaded up and headed out. We stopped at several trees and checked the buckets to see how full they were and how the flow was. I have to admit, it was kind of fun bouncing around in the woods, especially when there is mud involved. When you have gigantic mud puddles and a 4×4 vehicle, that is usually recipe for fun!

BIG mud puddle!
BIG mud puddle!

Mud on the tires.
Mud on the tires.

_MG_0406We stopped at their house to get the remaining supplies and headed out into another part of the woods. We were looking for trees with a bright orange “T” painted on them. We came to the first one and hopped out. Corey grabbed some spiles, his drill, tapping bit, and headed to the marked tree.

There he drilled into the tree and then pounded the spile in with a hammer. The spiles they use are the ones that work with the sap bags. But instead of the sap bags, Corey uses buckets and tubing.

He prepared the buckets to so the sap would drain in and stay clean. (You can get ‘ready to go’ buckets too!) He drilled a hole into the side of the buckets big enough to hold the tubing, but small enough to keep it from sliding out, and inserted one end of the tubing. After attaching the tubing to the spile, he found a flat place in the ground and set the bucket down, ready to receive the sap from the maple tree. He repeated this process on another side of the same tree.

_MG_0419It was really cold that day. The wind cut right through you. And getting into some of those places was hard with briars everywhere. Tracy showed me her battle scar from earlier when she was marking the trees. She giggled and told Corey that there are some trees that are much harder to get to than the one we’d just tapped.

At the next few stops we emptied full buckets of sap. We collected two 5-gallon buckets full of sap to take back. Corey said they had 20 gallons collected for the next batch. After all boiled down, it would maybe equal 2 pints. I knew that it takes lots of sap to make syrup, but that really put it into perspective for me!

It takes a lot of work to make the sweet golden syrup we take for granted, but it makes it all worth while when they can supply their family of 3 girls (and other family members) with food they grew/collected and preserved.

_MG_0452On our way out, Corey said he remembers his mother canning all sorts of things when he was younger and wants to get back to doing that. They have a to-do list of items for this spring, so next winter they will have food to feed their family.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate in the next few weeks so they can finish up with a good season. I am hoping to be at their house when they cook up the syrup and I am willing to make the pancakes to try some of the syrup on!

Oh, and as we were driving out of the woods, Tracy wanted to make sure we got to go through the mud puddle just one more time.

Click here to see a a few more photos of my maple tapping adventure.

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