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Thứ Bảy, 11 tháng 4, 2015

Trendy maples offer sap, syrup and food for bees - The Daily Gazette (blog)

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I noticed the maple trees starting to bud near Schenectady last week, as I drove south and away from the realm of snow plows and salt trucks.

At home, where it’s still snowy, it’s still maple season. The taps are still out; the sap is still flowing. And the trees aren’t close to budding.

Once the trees bud, the maple sap loses its sweetness. That sweetness — a light, bright flavoring to what is otherwise ice-cold water — is making “maple water” a new and trendy product.

It’s been trendy at our house for a long time. For years, whenever my husband carries in a bucket of maple sap, he asks “Who wants a glass of Nature’s Beverage?” He thinks that sounds funny. Our son thinks it’s delicious, and runs for a glass.

We thought we were the only ones who had ever thought of drinking sap. But no. It’s being packaged in 8-ounce containers that sell for $3 or so, and billed as containing dozens of vitamins and minerals, being low-cal, gluten- and dairy-free, refreshing, natural, vegan and non-GMO.

Of course it’s all that, because it’s just a natural product of a wild tree. If only we had thought of packaging it ourselves.

Instead, we drink a little, and make the rest into maple syrup. We do it the slow and simple way: We pour buckets of sap into turkey roasters on our wood stove, and let it slowly evaporate. It takes days, but so what? It’s our own syrup.

It’s not our own idea. We learned the slow method from an old farmer friend, who told us that as long as we’ve got a wood stove going, we might as well be making syrup.

Most people with indoor wood stoves keep a pan of water on top to evaporate and put moisture into the air. So why not make that pan of water a pan of maple sap?

We started by tapping a few maple trees out back, and making a couple of gallons of syrup between mid-March and the end of April. We’d have enough for ourselves and some relations.

Over the years, our maples got bigger and we could put out more taps, and make enough maple syrup to give to friends. Then the trees got even bigger, and now we have lots of taps out. Looks like this year we’ll have an actual surplus of maple syrup.

We hang industrial-size mayonnaise bottles on the taps, because our friends with a store and deli have a lot of spare industrial-size mayo bottles. If the weather is right — frozen nights and above-freezing days — we collect sap several times a day. We’ve got three turkey roasters going on the wood stove.

It’s not like the inside of a sugar house, where a wood or gas-fired evaporator blazes, making temps in the 90s and filling the inside with steam like a sauna. That’s nice, but you can’t do it inside your house.

Instead, the sap slowly evaporates, concentrating the sugars. It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup, and you can pretty much smell when it’s getting close.

That’s when we pour the near-syrup into a smaller pot on the kitchen stove for a final boil-down.

I pour finished syrup into big jars and let them settle for a couple of days. There’s a sediment called sugar sand that sinks to the bottom of the jar.

Once it’s settled, I pour the cleared syrup into a pot and bring it to a boil again, then fill sterilized canning jars with the hot syrup, and seal it.

Voila. Maple syrup, shelf-ready. Once the shelves are full, we’re ready for the trees to bud and flower. Maple flowers are the first food of the season for the bees, who make the second sweet syrup of the year: honey.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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