We also have some friends nearby with all the necessary equipment for collecting sap. We thought it would be pretty cool to try making syrup from the maple trees "in the backyard."
Trekking out to the woods with buckets and taps in hand, we found three nice-sized maple trees. This was not as easy as you might think. If you're a noob like me, it's pretty easy to convince yourself you've just tapped an oak. We drilled the holes, the kids helped tap in the spouts, and we hung the buckets up.
Here's a picture of the woods. You can see one of the three buckets near the center.
That was last week, and despite checking every day, there was no sap. I figured it must still be too cold (or they really were oaks!) ... Well, today it was nice and sunny, and when I went out early in the afternoon, we actually had quite a bit of sap in the buckets. I grabbed a bucket, and went to collect what I could - I got one pitcher's worth.
Thomas inspecting a pitcher of sap!
The next step was to take the sap, put it through a coffee filter, and boil it down into syrup
40:1 reduction. Boiled for just under an hour.
There's some sort of fancy "refractometer" that you can use to see how close you're getting. It looks like a little jeweler monocle thingy. Well, we didn't have one of those, so we were just eye-balling it. Of course, I messed it up, and let it go just a little too long.
Woops. Smells awesome though!
Instead of syrup, we got 3 little Maple-Toffee candies
The sap was running well today - just before dinner, we were able to collect a second pitcher. We boiled it with more care this time, and voila! - syrup. Awesome!
The candy and syrup taste amazing, but of course that was only one reward...
For the kiddies, we revealed yet another "it comes from a store" mystery. They participated in the whole process to see how syrup is made. Explaining why and how sap runs up a tree is a really neat lesson in biology to share, not to mention how excited for spring we are now.
It was a perfect excuse to get outside and spend some time in the woods each day. Like having a backyard vegetable garden, it feels really good to produce something yourself; getting syrup from something that is just "happening" out in the woods is even cooler.
Most of all though, (and at the risk of sounding hokey), experiencing the life of the forest and the feelings that come with being alongside nature was really powerful. Somehow between the act of ingestion and the knowledge that we were "eating a tree" was deeply satisfying and decidedly spiritual.
Finally, I can never eat enough pancakes.