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Chủ Nhật, 8 tháng 3, 2015

Sap harvest: Daly Mansion volunteers begin maple syrup production - Ravalli Republic

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2015-03-07T19:30:00Z 2015-03-08T06:38:31Z Sap harvest: Daly Mansion volunteers begin maple syrup productionBy MICHELLE McCONNAHA - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic

The sugar maple trees at the Daly Mansion may have been planted for their beautiful fall foliage, but they have become an icon of the Bitterroot Valley. The trees reflect the weather, the seasons and have a hidden treasure that is simply delicious – maple syrup.

The trees start rising sap when there is a 20-degree difference between daytime and nighttime temperatures. Once they begin to experience warm days and cool nights, the sap begins to flow.

“Sap suckers” are the mansion volunteers who ready the trees by drilling holes into the thick trunks, installing taps, inserting tubes to carry the sap to the bucket and then dutifully emptying the buckets as they fill daily. They collect the lightly sweetened clear liquid until there are 120 gallons – enough for a boil.

A small window of opportunity exists between when the sap starts flowing and when the trees start budding. Once the weather turns continually warmer, the sap tastes different, the bugs arrive and sap-collecting season is over.

2015 is the fifth year of tapping trees and making maple syrup. The results yield an excellent spring fundraiser for the mansion.

There are no firm dates in this process. Last year they had two springs – they tapped the trees in January, then everything froze shutting them out in February. Then in March, they had a record-breaking run – collecting 800 gallons of sap.

Bob Gibson, chairman of the “Sap Suckers,” and Kurt Stoehr, co-chair, led the boil on Friday, Feb. 27, the third boil this year.

“It’s been a slow year,” said Gibson. “The weather has not been cooperating. We’ve collected 120 gallons of sap a week for the last three weeks. Last week, we thought today would be our last day to collect sap because the buds on the trees looked like they were going to swell. It got cold again, the flies that had come out are dead, and so we’re back in business.”

When the weather is warm and doesn’t drop below freezing at night, another concern is that the sap they have gathered would ferment.

“We have to have that swing – freezing at night and in the 40s during the day and that starts the sap flowing,” said Gibson. “When it’s cold enough, there is always ice in the 40-gallon barrels.”

The boil began with building a big fire under a frame and pouring the 120 gallons of sap into a 3-by-5-foot steel pan. By 10 a.m. the syrup was boiling.

The “sap suckers” lending a hand included Gibson, Stoehr, Dick Galiher, Nat Sturgis (and his Labrador – Molly), Rick and Kim Milestead with their 7-year-old grandson, Eon Thorne.

The fire was constantly fed, which helped beat off the chill of the day.

“The boil consumes the better part of a cord of wood for each boil,” said Stoehr.

The wood came from broken branches and fallen trees among the over 500 trees in the 40-acre arboretum on the mansion grounds.

At 11 a.m., it was time to gather the day’s sap – for use in the next boil. The Milesteads and their grandson went to each tree along the lane replacing jugs that had burst from frozen sap and collecting gallons of sap and pouring it into the buckets on the back of the mansion’s four-wheeler. Then they hauled the sap back to the sugar shack and poured it into the holding barrels.

“We are volunteer sap suckers because we have a couple of maple trees in our yard that we wanted to learn how to sap,” said Kim. “We wanted to learn from the professionals – these guys – and we brought our grandson because we wanted him to see the process.”

Eon said it wasn’t boring – a high compliment from a youngster.

Time passed. Lunch arrived. The boiling crew played with the dog, avoided the smoke and laughed – a lot. Stirring wasn’t necessary as the boiling sap stirred itself – occasionally the crew picked up an end of the pan giving the liquid a roll.

Every so often, the crew used an “officially calibrated gauge” to measure the liquid – a board with carved markings indicating measurements.

“As per Doc [Charles] Petty and Fred Hasscamp, because they invented this stick,” said Stoehr. “They put out the call to have volunteers to come learn to do it. We were the ones that showed up.”

“Fred did this in Minnesota before he moved to Montana,” said Galiher. “He and Doc started doing it to their trees about 18 years ago.”

“I’m sure when Marcus Daly imported these trees he had no idea what was going to happen,” said Gibson. “I think he was looking for fall foliage.”

Syrup is declared done based on color, volume and viscosity – when it looks, smells and tastes like syrup.

“That’s where the art versus science comes in, we also take a spoon, and fill it with boiling sap and let it drip,” said Stoehr. “The whole boil changes, there’s a foam pattern that develops on the top. You can hear it – it makes kind of a loud hissing and singing sound.”

“It’s very much like making candy,” said Gibson.

Then around 1:30 p.m., the boil got real exciting.

The measuring stick was inserted and the crew confirmed the sap had boiled down from four inches to about an inch; the liquid changed to syrup color and was a bit thicker – dripping off the spoon a little slower. The foam turned brown and a distinct hiss from the boiling liquid grew louder. The men quickly pulled logs away from the fire and declared “it is time!” They worked hurriedly not wanting the syrup to scorch and taste burnt.

Stoehr and Gibson lifted the large pan off the fire. The smoke, steam and ash made the air too thick for them see where they were going so Galiher verbally guided them to rest the front corner on a cinder block allowing them to slowly tip the back end – pouring the liquid into a large stainless steel pot. The cooking pan was propped vertically against the shed and spoons were passed around for tasting the delicious syrup.

“It has a smoky after taste because we do it over wood,” said Stoehr. “The commercial operations back east use reverse osmoses and propane fuel. That’s probably a lot more efficient, but not nearly as tasty. The flavor of this is just off the charts.”

One mouthful of the warm velvet sweetness validated the time and effort.

The syrup was run through a dual-filter system and poured into quart canning jars for storage in the mansion basement until all the sap gathering and boiling is done for the season.

The syrup is bottled by another crew that reheats the syrup and pours it into fancy jars.

“It’s one of the biggest spring time fundraisers for the mansion – it all sells really quickly,” said Gibson.

There is no official date when the syrup sales begin – possibly in April – another aspect to the art versus science of making maple syrup.

Copyright 2015 Ravalli Republic. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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