Monday, March 21, 2011

Maple Sugaring II

Homemade maple syrup (light early season and cloudy, unfiltered mid-season).

The maple sugaring operation has been fairly successful. Earlier on in the season, back in late February, the syrup was very light in color, with a delicate flavor, whereas more recent batches have been darker and stronger. This pattern is apparently caused by the fact that the earliest sap is richer in sugar, and needs less cooking and concentrating, and by increased microbial activity with warmer weather later on.

Record high temperatures at the end of last week could have put an end to the sap flow, but my trees started producing again after a refreeze on Saturday. The coming week looks like it might have some good sugaring conditions, with lows below freezing and highs in the low 40s (~7 C). We'll see what happens; I don't expect the season to last too much longer in any event.

The evaporation process produces a cloudy precipitate called "sugar sand," which has a slightly bitter taste. Mostly I've just been waiting for it to settle, then pouring off the clear syrup, but I've also salvaged some additional syrup by reheating the dregs and putting it through a coffee filter, which was an annoyingly slow, messy process. It would be great to have a home centrifuge, or at least a vacuum filtration system to speed things up!

My costs so far have been less than $10 for electricity for boiling, $7 for spiles (taps), and $2 for filters, which has yielded about 2 quarts of syrup. That works out to less than half the retail cost of local maple syrup, which is better than I had expected. The economics look a lot less favorable if I count the cost of my time (probably 10 minutes a day for four weeks collecting sap, and maybe 15-20 hours total for boiling, though that didn't need continuous supervision).

River's Edge Sugar House.

Last weekend I visited an actual commercial sugar shack, River's Edge Sugar House on Connecticut Route 89 in the wilds of Ashford. They have around 2000 taps, and use a reverse osmosis system and a large wood-fired evaporator to make syrup. The folks who run it were happy to chat about their setup, and I bought some really good maple candy and honey from them.

Commercial evaporator, with fresh sap starting at left, and the late stages to finished syrup in the lower divided pan.

Stop in at River's Edge if you're in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut; it was a fun and informative trip. You can also order syrup and other sweet stuff from them through the mail.


Devan said...

There is nothing better than homemade maple syrup! YUM!

Matt said...

Devan: it's pretty delicious :)

Alex said...

Wow, that's much cheaper than I would have guessed! Plus you got 15-20 hours of stuff to do. Not a bad price as far as entertainment goes. I may give it a try next year. Thanks for posting the results.

Matt said...

Alex: Start looking for sugar maples this spring! It's been a fun project, and sort of productive.