Maple Cured Bacon: Acquire pork belly (pictured above: 8 lbs.). Cure in fridge for two weeks with 6 tablespoons sea salt, 1/3 cup maple syrup, and 1 1/2 teaspoons curing salt, flipping meat after a week. Rinse, pat dry, and smoke at 150 degrees or lower on your Sapling Smoker for 2 hours. Store in fridge or freezer for at least a day before slicing thin. Cook. Eat. Enjoy!
This is only the beginning. Think of it as a primer for starting to think about thinking about grilling and smoking on the Sapling Party Grill and Sapling Smoker with the maple you made on your Sapling Evaporator. Ready to experience the magic of three machines in one? Here's what the inventor of that three-fer has to say about it:
You've had your Sapling for a few years now. Tell me how you like to use your machine when you are not sugaring.
To start, you should know that the Sapling Party Grill is just the Sapling Evaporator with the pan removed and replaced with three custom grill grates. To make the Sapling Smoker, you simply install the Sapling Smoking Package on the Sapling Grill.
Having said that, both the Grill and Smoker are really effective for preparing large food spreads; we use the Sapling Grill to cook the meats for parties at our home. We use the Sapling Smoker for special meals or to preserve meats. The surface area is extensive. And it's easy to control the temperature for low temperature smoking.
There's significant prep and cleanup time involved, so this is weekend or holiday cooking for us. But we love it.
Give me an idea of the grill space. How big does it feel? How much food can you fit on it?
Let's see, we've fit 14 pounds of pork bellies on our Sapling Grill; 15 pounds of chicken. A 15 pound turkey. 40 hot dogs. At 20 by 30 inches, it's BIG.
To grill, do you use wood or charcoal? How far in advance of cooking do you have to start the fire to grill? And to smoke?
You can grill with wood or with charcoal. If you are using soft wood, wood gets hot quicker and is good for searing. You can be ready to go in 10 minutes or so. Charcoal is going to take you at least 20 minutes to get to grilling temperature. And to smoke, you need a half hour minimum to get your charcoal bed set and your chips smoking.
Can you cold smoke on the Sapling?
We've had temperatures under 150 degrees, but cold smoking is well under 100 degrees. You know, we've never tried, but I suppose you could!
What kinds of temperatures are you looking to achieve on the Sapling Smoker for different kinds of food?
It depends on whether you are cooking or curing. If you are curing bacon, for example, you are looking for 120-130 degrees. If you are cooking chicken to eat, you are looking for more like 250. All those temps are totally doable on the Sapling.
Can you make pizza on the Sapling Grill?
If you have installed the Sapling Smoking Package, yes! We're still perfecting our method, but, by using a large, rectangular pizza stone, and firing the grill up to 400 degrees or so (as measured by a magnetic stove thermometer on the smoker lid), we've made some amazing, amazing pizza. The wood-fired taste is just outrageously good. And we've figured out how to use the maple syrup we made on our Sapling as an ingredient, too.
Wood Fired Veggie Pizza with Maple and Goat Cheese: Make your favorite pizza dough and roll thin. Top with crushed tomato, fresh mozzarella, sliced baby bella mushrooms, baby arugula, and toasted walnuts. Sprinkle with goat cheese and drizzle lightly with maple syrup. Remove baffle from Sapling Smoker and ensure damper is open. Place pizza stone on grates and start fire. Cook covered at 400 degrees or hotter for 10 minutes or until done.
Cool! How do you store your Sapling Party Grill / Sapling Smoker when you are not using it?
Outside, under the Sapling Grill Cover.
How do you get the longest life out of your Sapling Party Grill / Sapling Smoker?
Clean out ashes and brush off dirt every once in a while, and then coat in vegetable oil, inside and out. Keep dry. Sand any blemishes with 100 grit sandpaper and touch up with Sapling Touch Up Paint or the equivalent. You can also use stove blacking.
How does grilling on the Sapling compare to your experience with other grills?
You have to be a bit more patient. You have to take your time and pay attention to what you are doing, then wait until the grill cools before you put it away. But the outcomes are better. The wood flavor is amazing. The food is just so good.
Do you recommend the Sapling Party Grill and the Sapling Smoker, then?
Of course! Yah. Anyone interested in having a multifunctional grill that can do a really nice job sugaring as well should consider the Sapling.
I'll toast to that! Care for a maple sun tea?
Peaches canned in homemade maple syrup: a north-south, east-west delicacy.
My peach tree nearly toppled over with the weight of its fruit this weekend. Which was a big surprise, as I recall my disbelief at the point of its purchase three years ago that one could even grow peaches in Vermont.
Peaches have a special place in my heart. I spent part of my childhood in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. My brothers and I had a babysitter named Linda. She had a homestead way out in Harper's Ferry, where she raised a gaggle of kind, wild boys. Linda kept to the house unless someone needed her but us kids had free reign of the farm. And the peaches. The kind you can barely eat for juiciness. The kind that gets all over your face no matter how tidy you're trying to be. We had peaches many ways at Linda's. But one of the best, on a hot day, was frozen and blended with a little water. Linda called it the peach freeze. It was the taste of summer.
And then there were Grandma Jeanette’s canned peaches. Served for dessert whenever we were in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Perfect halves, flawlessly skinned, in heavy syrup, preserved in half-gallon mason jars. Grandpa Stan fetched them from the cellar slowly and carefully while we anticipated. Brought the prairie summer to any time of the year, over the years, first for my husband, then for us both, and then for our children.
So I picked my peaches this weekend – every last one of them – eating some while still warm from the sun. They weren’t quite the West Virginia peaches or South Dakota peaches of my youth. Nor are they Pennsylvania or Georgia peaches, I’d imagine. But they are fresh. And, this weekend, I canned them in my own homemade maple syrup. Bringing a little Vermont to the peach. Expressing solidarity with peach country. Sending a bit of sweetness south and west, into the past, and into the future.
Here's to hoping someone remembers my peaches fondly someday and passes on the love.
One America Homemade Maple Syrup Peaches
Wash your peaches and freeze for at least one hour on a jelly-roll pan or other sheet pan with a lip. Run under cold water and slip off the skins. Half and pit the peaches, placing them directly into clean jars. Boil a mixture of four-parts water to one-part homemade maple syrup. Pour boiling mixture over peaches to 1/2" of top. Affix lids. Can in a hot water bath for 20 minutes, cool, and store.
Have you ever wondered how maple got big? How it went from a subsistence crop to a farmer's sideline, to a product that could mount a flavor challenge to pumpkin spice? Well the answer may surprise you: it was the Maple King who made it happen.
Who was the Maple King? George C. Cary. And how can you learn more about him? By reading "Maple King: The Making of a Maple Syrup Empire" by Matthew M. Thomas, a fascinating and well-written book about a personality that looms as large in the (relatively small) world of maple as Rockefeller does in oil, Carnegie in steel, and the Great Gatsby did in your high school English class.
"The Maple King," is the story of Cary's life as well as the story of the commodification of maple syrup. It is as academic as a history text, but entertaining enough to make a reader wonder when the movie rights will be sold. There are antic-prone travelling salesmen, epic train journeys, New York City eateries, women on the side, a stock market crash, bankruptcy and sudden death between this book's covers. And plenty of the action takes place in the roaring twenties. What's not to love!? We've already purchased our popcorn.
Thomas starts by describing just how different the maple business was in the nineteenth century from what it is today. For those of you who have read either The Maple Sugar Book, or Maple Sugarin' in Vermont, the narrative covers familiar terrain by describing maple sugaring---and by that, we mean the boiling of maple sap down to actual sugar---as an ancillary springtime activity on the farm or rural homesteads of northeastern United States and southeastern Canada during that period. What you wouldn't have known was that people like Patrick J. Towle of Towle's Log Cabin Syrup Company (purveyors of what we sugar makers pejoratively call "the fake stuff" since 1887) were actually responsible for creating a national market for table syrup as such. In fact, without the marketing efforts of Log Cabin and the like, it would have been harder for maple producers to transition from selling sugar to selling syrup when, after the Civil War, the price of cane sugar dropped to below the price of maple sugar for the first (and all) time, and for that and other reasons became more popular than maple.
Cary's reign as Maple King spanned that whole transition, and then some. But we're getting ahead of ourselves, for one of the most interesting parts of Cary's story occurs before he's a maple man at all, and is theatrical in its serendipity (cue the dramatic music, here).
Cary started life as a member of the merchant class in a small town in northern Maine. He was educated at public school, attended college, and began his working life as a rural school teacher and local farm-machinery salesman. Just a year after Cary took up work as a travelling grocery salesman, however, he started selling maple sugar accidentally. Hard pressed to make a grocery sale in Craftsbury, Vermont, Cary agreed to take a large amount of maple sugar as payment for an order instead of cash. His bosses were none too pleased, and told Cary to turn the sugar into money. Cary, who would show himself to be capable of that alchemy until the end, did just that. While on the road once again, Cary convinced a tobacco salesman to use maple sugar in his plug tobacco instead of cane sugar, at a savings to the tobacco company. The switch stuck, and pretty soon, Cary was out on his own, buying up almost all of the maple sugar made in Vermont and selling it to big tobacco. He was, as such, the first to consolidate the small maple crops of thousands of farmers, create a standard maple product, and sell it in bulk, the precursor of how maple syrup is traded today.
The rest, as they say, is history, including the transition from sugar to syrup, the boom and bust of Cary's businesses, and with it St. Johnsbury, Vermont, the creation of the Fédération des producteurs acéricoles du Québec, the maple cartel that grew from the need to compete with the Maple King and that still sets global prices today, and the legacy---still going strong---of finding new and different ways to sell maple products.
"Maple King" is a good, fast read that will teach you your maple history while holding your interest with more than just places and dates. While Thomas doesn't stray far from his original source materials, he gives the reader enough extra to truly enjoy imagining the life and times of maple's own magnate.
Maple Sugarin' In Vermont: A Sweet History by Betty Ann Lockhart is a perfect fair-weather read for the Vermont history buff, but has hidden gems for all.
With a tone that toggles between history text and folktale, Maple Sugarin' In Vermont: A Sweet History by Betty Ann Lockhart traces the story of Vermont Maple from the early recorded history of colonization to the middle of the 20th Century.
Although there are some unfortunate moments---such as the author's reopening of the closed case as to who discovered maple---and despite the all-but-inevitable dryness of some of the weedy historical material, the book nevertheless left this reader hoping that Ms. Lockhart was well into her work on a sequel. Please, Ms. Lockhart, for your next book, take us into the contemporary era of Vermont maple, with attention to the back-to-the-land and organic food movements, the incredible recent industry consolidation, run-ins with labeling authorities, and (yes, selfishly) the backyard sugarmaking revolution currently underway among young people here!
Maple Sugarin' is organized chronologically as much as it is thematically and opens with the Abenaki and early settlers. Ms. Lockhart's treatment of the early recorded history of maple sugaring in Vermont is disappointing only in its suggestion that scholars are still at odds as to whether settlers from lands with no sugaring tradition could possibly have taught peoples having logged (tens?) of thousands of years in sugar country how to produce sugar from the maple tree. (For, surely that argument was satisfactorily dispatched by the prior scholarship of Helen Nearing in The Maple Sugar Book.) Nevertheless, these first chapters contain some gems; the story Lockhart tells of early sugar making is well illustrated both by words and by photographs of authentic and reproduction tools and equipment used by the first Vermont sugar makers. The rudimentary nature of early methods will impress any modern sugar maker with just how easy we have it!
After deftly weaving a tale of the advent of the 1791 sugaring season in with the story of Vermont becoming the fourteenth state of the Union (both occurred on March 4th of that year), Lockhart turns in Chapters 3 through 7 to Vermont sugarmaking as it existed in the early days of the Union through the Civil War. With entire chapters devoted to Thomas Jefferson's first exposure to Vermont maple (and subsequent failure to bring maple to Monticello) and the role consumption of maple sugar played in the Vermont abolition movement, Lockhart nevertheless pays scrupulous attention as well to advances in equipment and methods during this time, bringing us from wooden buckets and spiles and kettle systems to the advent of the evaporator, the sugar house, and all-things metal (even metal tubing---an experiment that would fail and keep on failing until its eventual demise in the 20th Century).
The balance of the book chronicles the rise of the Vermont maple industry through the middle of the 20th Century. According to Lockhart, the turn of the 20th Century is about when syrup starts surpassing sugar as the maple crop of choice. Ironically, it is also when Vermont producers start getting organized through the Vermont Maple "Sugar" Makers Association, and otherwise, to advocate for the protection and promotion of their crop. Lockhart goes on to detail the contributions of such notables as George C. Cary ("The Maple King") and the Proctor family. A reader's reward for making it through the dry-but-important subsequent exploration of the legal and regulatory environment of the era are the absolute gems at the end. Chapter 13 contains entertaining tales of and by actual Vermont sugarmakers, and Chapter 15 a primer on odd tools of the trade that will pique the interest of any peruser of antiques. The book ends, as any book on maple probably should, with recipes---these ones a bit basic but purporting to be authentic to old Vermont.
Any maple history enthusiast will find value in reading this thorough and, at times, supremely entertaining book. Widely available online and orderable at your local bookstore, if you or someone you know loves all things maple, give Betty Ann Lockhart's Maple Sugarin' In Vermont; A Sweet History a read one of these days!
The Sapling Evaporator is engineered for maximum backyard efficiency!
Last year, a prospective customer named Tom emailed me with the following question: “I love your maple syrup evaporators. But, without being a jerk, why should I spend $895 on a Sapling when some guy is selling a homemade barrel evaporator for $300 on Craig’s List? What’s the difference?”
I corresponded with Tom for a few days. And I can assure you that he is most definitely not a jerk. Not only that, but his question is a very, very good one! So, without being a jerk, here’s what I told him:
First, the Sapling is engineered for maximum backyard efficiency. Although the Sapling is simply designed, it is engineered especially for sugaring, and has some of the advanced features of more expensive evaporators. Most importantly, the Sapling’s stainless pan is baffled, which allows it to operate as a continuous-flow evaporator. Continuous-flow evaporation merits a blogpost in itself, but suffice it to say that this configuration allows syrup to be drawn off and sap to be added without emptying the pan. The continuous flow is more efficient than boiling off sap in batches, or pouring the boil from pan-to-pan.
I've talked to a LOT of people who have used the kids of homemade barrel evaporators Tom is talking about. Typically, those evaporators use a cast-iron, barrel-stove kit and hotel pans, both widely available items, to convert the barrel to an evaporator. The barrel-stove door does not have as much space for air intake as the Sapling’s specially engineered door does (making it harder to keep temperatures optimal for sugaring), the legs are shorter (requiring more bending on your part), the exit pipe comes out of the top of the unit rather than the back of the unit (leaving less surface area for boiling, which means slower evaporation) and, MOST importantly, the pan(s) are not baffled, meaning that you have to batch your boil, or pour from pan-to-pan, instead of doing a continuous-flow boil. From the (literally hundreds of) conversations I've had, I'd say that the Sapling, which boils at anywhere from 4 to 8 gallons of sap off per hour, depending on conditions, is easily twice as efficient as a comparably-sized batch operation.
Second, we stand by our Saplings, which are built to last. Our Saplings are coated with a high-temperature powder coating that is both durable and clean for the environment. And, all fasteners and hardware on the exterior of the Sapling are either powder coated or made of stainless steel. Homemade barrel evaporators probably don't have stainless fasteners, typically have cast iron pieces that rust, and are not at all likely to be powder coated.
We are a going concern, and are in this business for the long haul. Our reputation is important to us, and we support our customers whether they are happy with our products or not. (So far, so good!) That homemade barrel evaporator guy may not be as responsive to your requests for customer service as we will be. Take Tom, for example. He asked a question, and got an essay!
Third, the Sapling is multifunctional and can be accessorized. The Sapling is not just an evaporator! Each unit comes standard with grates that convert the Sapling into a wood-fired grill. And now, with the purchase of the Sapling Smoking Package, the Sapling can be a smoker too! Soon, a Sapling-shaped heavy-duty cloth cover (like a grill cover) will be available for purchase, and we hope to launch a warming pan that will fit neatly on the back of the Sapling in time for next sugaring season. The Sapling is unique among all evaporators for its multifunctionality; the current and future availability of Sapling accessories sets it apart from homemade units of all kinds.
Fourth, the Sapling was built with safety and the environment in mind. This is my last-but-not-least point. Saplings start as new, unlined, unpainted steel. They are assembled, media-blasted, powder-coated and outfitted with a stainless evaporation pan bearing lead-free welds and a lead-free pour-off valve. Our operations are so environmentally responsible they require no permitting.
As far as we are aware, homemade barrel evaporators are made with barrels that have been used, lined, and/or painted. Such barrels are widely available at little or no cost. When we were in our R&D phase, we started with used, painted barrels too. We learned quickly that this would be a mistake in production.
To start, in order to put high-quality, high-temperature paint on used barrels, you have to clean off the old paint, which is not suitable for high-temperatures. Otherwise, the old paint will peel off right under the new paint on the first burn. This is extremely difficult, dirty, and time-intensive work that we suspect lower-cost barrel evaporator makers do not engage in. Unfortunately, many people who have made their own evaporators have reported to us that they burned the old paint off before applying the new paint. We do not know whether homemade barrel makers engage in this environmentally suspect practice, but we most-certainly do not.
Even as we were bemoaning the work involved in rehabbing an old barrel, someone was mistaken (or less than honest) about what had been in one of the used barrels we purchased and we had a health and environmental issue on our hands the moment we opened it up. We handled it responsibly, and everything turned out fine, but it put us off used barrels for good. Now, we doubt whether anyone would work on and sell to you a barrel that smelled as bad as this one did, but nevertheless, we feel REALLY good about being able to tell people that we use new, unused, unlined, unpainted barrels to make our Saplings. You do not know where that used barrel has been! And we are not messing around with safety!
Last time I talked to Tom, he was still thinking about whether to become a customer, but I appreciated his inspirational question so much that I offered him a free Sapling Cover if he came our way. So take this as a not-so-subtle hint, readers. Send me your thoughts!
And thanks, Tom!
Like shiny things? This season's Sapling Evaporator, in stock now, is a classic, flat black with stainless evaporator pan and accents. Making maple syrup in your backyard has never been this easy OR attractive!
You are seriously thinking about buying a Sapling Evaporator, but you have a few questions. Chances are, the answers are below!
What's the lead-time on a Sapling Evaporator?
None! Our stock is holding out well, and we're busy manufacturing more at a good clip. We work every day during the season, so orders are generally shipped or made available for pickup the next business day after an order is placed.
How does the Sapling Evaporator ship?
The Sapling ships in a big box via UPS.
How long does it take to ship a Sapling to zipcode _ _ _ _ _?
UPS estimates place all of sugar country within one to three days of us. except for the farthest reaches of Maine, New England destinations are one day away, as are eastern and central New York. Western New York and the New York City area, as well as Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland are two-day destinations. It takes three days to get a Sapling to Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
How much does it cost to ship a Sapling to zipcode _ _ _ _ _?
We ship Saplings anywhere in the U.S. for $150, flat.
May I come pick up my Sapling instead?
Sure thing! You can pick up your Sapling, by appointment, for free!
When may I pick up my Sapling?
Our facility is generally open for pickups-by-appointment from 9-5 during the week. If that doesn't work for you, we'll find a weekend time that does. Shortly after you place your order, we will be in touch with you to schedule a pickup. Rushing is not the Vermont way. As such, we're happy to hold your Sapling for you while you plan your trip to Montpelier, an excellent day-trip destination (activity and restaurant recommendations available upon request)!
What is the best way to place my order?
Online! And thanks for asking. We're a small operation, so placing your order on our website helps us stay organized and avoid mistakes.
How many taps will the Sapling handle?
We recommend the Sapling for operations ranging from 5-50 taps for customers who anticipate saving sap up for occasional boils (e.g., weekends or days off from work). Customers who are able to boil whenever the sap flows should be able to handle up to 100 taps. The Sapling is not recommended for operations bigger than 100 taps.
How many gallons per hour can I evaporate on the Sapling?
We have measured everything from 4 to 8 gallons of evaporation per hour on our Sapling. The speed of your boil will depend on many things, including: the temperature outside, whether it is precipitating, the heat of your fire, your level of attention and skill and whether you are using the Sapling Warming Pan or other warming situation of your own invention.
Does the Sapling come assembled?
Almost completely! All new Sapling owners must install the stack and ball valve. That involves six self-tapping screws, pipe tape (provided) and opposable thumbs (BYO). Saplings that are shipped will also need to have their legs attached with the bolts, nuts and lock washers provided. Directions come with and are also here.
What tools should I have on hand for assembly?
A power-drill with Philips-head attachment installed should do it. A note for the apocalypse: it is possible to assemble a Sapling with nothing but a Philips-head screwdriver, but it's not fun. Self-tapping screws don't require drilling---although some folks prefer to pre-drill---but do pair well with power tools.
Is the Sapling portable?
Yes! The Sapling is light enough for one or two people to move it around easily (see below) and even comes with threaded holes on each foot for the intrepid customer who wishes to install casters for locomotion around easy terrain. (Hint: get the ones with breaks - you need to be able to level your unit).
How heavy is the Sapling?
All assembled, the Sapling is about 90 lbs. The heaviest part (the barrel with legs and door installed) is about 50 lbs.
What are the dimensions of the Sapling?
People usually ask because they are wondering if it will fit in their car. The answer is yes! We once fit a Sapling Evaporator in a Toyota Corolla! (We had to take it apart.) The partially-assembled Sapling will fit in any SUV or truck bed.
The Sapling ships in a box that is 38 x 25 x 27 (L x W x H). With legs at pickup, it's about 33 x 23 x 29 (L x W x H).
If you need more detail than this because you are installing your Sapling in an outbuilding, please be in touch!
What kind of outfitting does the Sapling require?
Besides sap, the only thing you absolutely need to bring to your Sapling is an inch or two of sand or ash to be placed on the bottom of your barrel (to protect the metal from the hottest part of your fire).
Should I firebrick my Sapling?
This is a matter of personal choice. The benefits are heat retention and added protection for your barrel. The downside is a smaller firebox. There is such a thing as half-brick, which basically splits the difference. If you are curious about how to lay your brick in your barrel, you can watch us do it here.
Can I install my Sapling in a sugar house?
Provided you consult your local fire warden and do it safely, yes! While the Sapling was designed for outdoor use, we have many customers who have installed their Saplings inside a shack or other outbuilding.
What kind of wood should I burn in the Sapling?
Opinions vary about what kind of wood is best, but the truth is that most people just burn what is available at little or no cost. We like a mixture of hard and soft, ourselves. Your wood should be split a time or two more than you would split it for use in your wood stove so that it about the width of your arm. Best to keep the lengths to two feet or below.
How much wood do I need?
It's a hard question to answer without knowing what kind of wood you are burning, but, by way of a ballpark, we suggest 1/2 cord of wood per every 5 gallons of syrup produced.
I don't have that much; where can I find inexpensive wood?
Check with a local hardware store or lumber mill. Very often, outfits that sell lumber will have or know where you can get inexpensive wood called "slag" wood - the bark edges of trees cut for lumber. You can also use old pallets, clean construction extras, or dry fallen wood. For a complete discussion on sugar wood, go here.
Can I get to finished syrup on the Sapling or will I need to finish on a separate pan?
While the experienced and the brave make it to finished syrup on the Sapling, most of us amateur sugar makers pour-off when we are very close (for us, it's usually about 2:1), and reduce the rest of the way on propane nearby or inside on the kitchen stove.
At Vermont Evaporator Company, all our hobby maple-sugar-makers feature "baffled" or "continuous flow" pans, because it makes sugaring more efficient, even in the backyard. But why?
You know what a continuous-flow pan is, but do you know why it's better for sugaring than a flat pan?
To address this question, I asked Expert-of-Sorts, Andy Boutin, General Manager of Pellergy, and, conveniently, co-lessor of 157 Pioneer Center, Suite 1. As Andy was moving stuff around our shared warehouse, I shouted questions at him, and he shouted back, pausing every once in a while to draw me a diagram. Here’s how our high-volume conversation went:
Kate: People want to know why continuous-flow evaporators are more efficient than evaporating on a flat pan. I gather the answer lies in understanding a principle of physics called a “gradient.” I’m trying to figure out what a gradient is, what it has to do with sugaring, and how a continuous-flow evaporator exploits that principle to make more syrup in less time. Can you help?
Kate: Wait. What did you study again?
Andy: Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture.
Kate: Hmm. But that involved a lot of Physics classes, right?
Andy: Yes. There’s a lot of fluid dynamics in that education, with ships and man submersibles traveling through water at different densities. It’s relatable.
Kate: Sold! Why is a continuous-flow pan better for sugaring than a flat pan and what does it have to do with the “gradient.” According to Lord Google, gradient is defined as “an increase or decrease in the magnitude of a property (e.g., temperature, pressure, or concentration) observed in passing from one point or moment to another.” What does that have to do with the price of syrup?
Andy: Lord Google is correct, of course, but that's not how I would explain it. Let’s back up.
Gradient is “physics” for as you move through space or time, something that can be measured changes gradually over the course of that distance. So, on a hot summer day, in a house with no internal doors (or doors that are open), if you climb the stairs from the basement to the first floor, the first floor to the second floor, and the second floor to the attic, you travel through a temperature gradient. A gradient is a gentle slope, not a cliff, and is not the result of a physical barrier. So, when, on that same hot summer day, you cross the street and open a door to a nice, cool, air-conditioned house, you are not travelling through a temperature gradient – the change is not gradual and is the result of a physical barrier.
There are a number of gradients at play when sugaring, but probably the most important one for purposes of this discussion is the density gradient that results from changes in sugar concentration as water evaporates and sap turns to syrup.
Kate: OK, I’m with you. Are there density gradients no matter how you sugar?
Andy: Yes. But they don’t operate the same way in every pan. Envision a flat pan the same dimensions as the Sapling Evaporator Pan---20” x 30”---but with no baffles. Think about the pathway from sap to syrup in that pan. Put the sap in. Start the fire. Water boils off. You add more sap. Now you have a density gradient: the denser liquid is at the bottom of the pan and the less-dense liquid is at the top of the pan. Every time you add sap, that density gradient forms (and, by the way, you kill your boil). So you have to keep boiling and boiling until the entire pan is the same density, and then you draw it all off. That’s the batch process. The gradient works against you, not for you, when you batch.
The concentration gradient works FOR you in a continuous-flow pan, both in terms of efficiency and quality. Now take the actual Sapling Evaporator Pan---20” x 30” with two baffles---and what you have is a pan that operates as if it is a 10” x 60” pan, squashed over the firebox. Now: put the sap in, start the fire, water boils off, you add more sap to one end of the pan only, and you’ve rearranged the gradient into a flowing river, where the less dense liquid pushes the denser liquid toward the pour-off, instead of a stagnant pond with muck settling at the bottom.
Kate: That’s quite a visual. Thanks. And there are efficiency gains as well as quality gains, you say?
Andy: Yes. In the flat pan, the gradient is only as long as the pan is deep, with a baffled pan, the gradient is as long as the different channels all stretched out. The efficiency is in the continuous flow that the latter gradient arrangement allows for – there’s no time-killing start and stop to your boil. The quality gains are that when you do draw off, you are able to take off only one density of syrup, even while other densities exist in the pan simultaneously.
Kate: One last question. Is it just me, or when you Google “sugar gradient maple” does the internet try to sell you wigs and quilting fabric?
Andy: Um . . . It’s you.
Old-fashioned lidded buckets pause for a photo-shoot before heading out into our sugarwoods for their annual stay.
You've decided to make maple syrup this year and you've determined that it's time to tap. Great!
As long as you've identified your maple trees (and any maple will do as long as it is at least 12 inches in diameter) all you need to do is get a hold of some simple tools and equipment, read these instructions, maybe watch our tapping video, and you are ready to go!
FIrst, you need a drill with a 7/16" or 5/16" bit. You can use a cordless power drill or a hand drill - also called a brace. The power drill has the advantage of being a lot faster, whereas the brace is more . . . romantic. . . . if you're into that sort of thing. The brace also has no carbon footprint! (For those of us not into romance.)
A regular bit will do, or you can invest in a "tapping bit," of either size. Our customers report that tapping bits are easier to use and make a nice, clean hole, but we've never used one. Tapping bits for cordless drills are widely available. Choose the bit size that matches the spiles you are going to use (see below).
Second, you need 7/16" or 5/16" spiles - also called "taps." Spiles are the spouts you hammer into the tree to direct the sap from the tree to the bucket or other sap-collection container of your choice.
New spiles are widely available in both sizes and come in metal and plastic. If you are in possession of used or even antique spiles, or looking for some (again with the romance!), chances are they are going to be of the larger size.
Every sugarmaker has an opinion about what size tap is best and whether to use plastic or metal spiles. Do research if you enjoy it, but the important thing is to just get started, so don't feel like you have to sweat the small stuff, here. This is supposed to be fun! Find some taps that are in your price range, and go for it!
You will need one spile per every tap you are going to make. A tree that is from 12 to 18 inches in diameter can support one tap. Trees larger than 18 inches in diameter can take two taps. Putting more than two taps in a tree is not recommended.
Third, you will need a hammer for tapping the spile into the tree after the hole is drilled.
And finally, you need lidded buckets or other food-safe containers such as clean plastic milk jugs attached to the spile with rope or wire, or food-safe plastic bags (widely available).
It is important to note that the old galvanized buckets may contain lead, and it is possible for lead to leach into your sap if sap is left in the bucket for long enough and temperatures are high enough. (Our family uses the old galvanized buckets and collects sap frequently.) New metal buckets are typically made of safer aluminum, there are plenty of plastic-bucket options, and there is even a bucket made of gray plastic on the market for those of you having a hard time weighing the factors of aesthetics, cost and function. (Brilliant!)
(If you'd like a head start on where to find stuff, check out our blogpost on that!)
Now that you have your stuff, you are going to proceed to your first tree and choose a height that is both convenient for the driller and collector. Choose a spot that is easy to drill at that moment, but also think about the current depth of the snow: is the collector going to have to reach over his or her head to collect the bucket when the snow melts?
Having settled on a height, inspect your tree. For best results, you should choose a place on the tree that is either below a big branch or above a big root, and definitely not near a knot or wound in the tree. Cardinal direction doesn't matter too much - every year you should tap at least 6" away from the prior year's tap anyway - but a southern tap will flow before a northern one, so do think about how you'd like to time your season. When you've chosen your spot, drill a hole of about 1 inch or so at a slight, upward angle and look for nice, light, creamy wood chips and sawdust coming out. If what you see is dark or dead, find another place on the tree to tap and try again.
When you have your hole, tap your spile in using your hammer, hang your bucket, and put on your lid. Move on to the rest of your sugarbush. Now it's time to wait for the sap to run!
Would you like to see it done? Here's a video featuring the inventor of the Sapling Evaporator tapping a tree in our sugarwoods.
The sap of the sugar maple runs when nighttime temperatures are freezing and daytime temperatures are not.
Finally! A question that's easy to answer. This is going to be a short blog post. Well . . .
Here are the basics. You aren't going to be able to collect sap from a maple tree until the sap starts running. Sap runs when nighttime temperatures are freezing and daytime temperatures are not. So when you tap is going to depend entirely on where you live - both in terms of geography and elevation - what the weather is doing that year, and thus when it is both cold enough and warm enough to create sap flow.
As you know, the climate is warming and weather patterns are changing, so the old rules-of-thumb are becoming less and less useful. For example, here in Central Vermont, Town Meeting Day (the first Tuesday in March) is when hill farmers would traditionally tap. For the last few decades, however, March has sometimes proved too late for us. These days, the professionals start early in the year, and us hobby farmers are likely to get ourselves out in the sugar woods by mid-February.
This year, some folks in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia started tapping, collecting and even boiling during the week between Christmas and New Years! That's early by anybody's standards. By the end of January, however, the rest of the Southern Midwest and Mid-Atlantic - Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - will likely have joined them. Southern New England and thereabouts - Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Southern New York and Connecticut - will follow. Like Vermont, in the Northern Midwest and in New England - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northern New York, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, folks typically don't tap until at least mid-February or even March. And we've got customers at certain elevations in upstate New York and in Canada, for example, who may wait until April! Oy!
The easiest way to get acclimated, if you are just starting out, is to pay attention to what other sugar makers are doing in your area. The forums on mapletrader, which are broken down by state, are a great resource for this. Or you could ask your local professional sugar maker and make a friend and ally in the process! But if you see that sweet steam rising in the neighborhood, that's a sure sign that it's time to get a move on.
Most sugar makers we've spoken to say that once the new year has passed, you can't tap too early, even if the sap is weeks away from flowing. There are detractors, of course, who say that a tree will close a wound early if tapped to early, such that you may miss some late-season flow. If, like most of us, you are a subsistence sugar maker who doesn't like to sweat the small stuff much (and isn't worrying about the return on investment for fancy equipment) just consider the above and find yourself a suitable weekend when it's convenient to get out there and take pleasure in the annual rite.
If you've identified your maple trees, everything else you need to know in order to make maple syrup in your backyard is here in its shortest form.
Sugaring season is drawing close. You want to start this year but you aren't sure you have time to figure it out and get your operation in order! It's almost February!
Not to fear. Here is the shortest guide to backyard sugaring ever made. You can DO it!
Step 1: Get Equipped
As long as you've identified your maple trees (and any maple will do as long as it is at least 12 inches in diameter) all you need to do is get a hold of some simple tools and equipment and you're ready for your first boil. The list of stuff you need is short:
For more about this stuff and where to acquire it go here.
Step 2: Tap
It depends on where in maple country you live and what the weather is doing. Sap runs when nighttime temperatures are freezing and daytime temperatures are not. So, right now our customers in the Southern Midwest and Mid-Atlantic - Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - report that they are already tapping and collecting. In the Northern Midwest and in New England, however, we typically don't tap until at least mid-February and sometimes not until March. And we've got customers at certain elevations in upstate New York, for example, who have to wait until April! So pay attention to what the weather is doing and what other sugar makers are doing in your area. A great resource for the latter are the forums on mapletrader, which are broken down by state. Or you could ask your local sugar maker and make a friend and ally in the process.
How do you tap?
Easy. Learn here.
Step 3: Collect Sap
Monitor your sap containers daily so that the sap does not overflow or get to warm. When your containers are full, or when the sap is exposed to warm temperatures or direct sunlight, collect from the tree and store in snowbanks in the shade, a cool garage, or other naturally refrigerated place in 5 gallon buckets or other large food-grade container. Sap will keep for a week or so at refrigerated temperatures. It is OK for sap to freeze. In fact, some of us throw out the ice chunks on the theory that it's just water. And it's OK for you to mix the sap from different maple trees together. It all tastes the same.
Step 4: Boil
When you have time to boil, boil! This is going to take a while, so either start as early as possible in the evening and know you aren't sleeping much that night, or, better yet, choose a day when you would be home anyway.
Exactly how this goes will depend on your arch. If you have a continuous-flow pan, like the Sapling Pan or the Seedling Pan, you will flood the pan with sap that you've strained through your cheesecloth, start your fire, and continuously pour sap into the entry point. And wait. You should be able to make 1 or 2 gallons of syrup in a 10-hour day with our products.
If you have a series of flat pans, you will flood all pans with strained sap, start your fire, and consolidate the boil into one pan as the levels in all pans reduce, leaving pan(s) open for new sap to be processed. And wait even longer.
If you have one flat pan, you will flood the pan with strained sap, start your fire, and occasionally fill the pan back up again with sap. And wait the longest of them all.
Regardless of your getup, you will measure the temperature (with thermometer) or sugar content (with hydrometer) of your boil at the exit point or final boiling pan, and pour-off/dump-out syrup when it measures 219 degrees F or 66 brix. OR you can also just dip a spoon or spatula into the boil, and observe how it behaves coming off the utensil and/or on to a cold plate. Syrup is said to "apron" off a spoon, and acts like syrup as it cools on your plate. Sap doesn't. It acts more like water in both scenarios.
Step 5: Filter and Store
Filter your syrup right away, pour immediately into food-safe containers, and invert the container briefly to sterilize the inside of the lid. If done quickly enough, this is all the canning process you need to keep syrup safely in a cool, dark place for two years! For more detail on safe canning, see here.
Need more help? Or prefer a guide you can hang onto in the woods? We recommend Maple Sugaring at Home, by Tap My Trees, available here. It's affordable, easy to use, and covers the basics in more detail.
Have fun and keep in touch!
On Teaspoon of Sugar, we write about maple sugaring, maple syrup, starting and running a small business, and living the sweet life here in beautiful, downtown Montpelier, Vermont.