Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Maple Sugar Tour, Part 2

In my preceding blog, I wrote about a tour of a maple sap line. Today, we will visit the “Sugar Shack,” the name that Roger Whitesel and Don Bratton use for their building that houses their boiling operation.

 About 20 of us crowded into a small building already filled halfway with a wood stove topped with a stainless steel tank. The air swirled with smoke and warmth from bubbling sap. Don cautioned us to be careful because of the hot stove.

First, he showed us a large pan with a funnel shape. On the bottom, he placed a white milk filter explaining, “We strain the sap through here to remove anything that might have fallen in it.”

 As it is strained, the sap runs into the large rectangular tank. A fire is lit below and the sap simmers until the right consistency. In the early spring, 34 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup. Later, 60 gallons is needed to make 1 gallon. 3,500 gallon of sap last year produced 90 gallon of syrup.  By this time last year, they were almost done with their 90 gallons. Our current extremely cold winter has held up the process. On the tour day of March 10, they've only been able to make 9 gallons so far. If the weather continues to be warm, that will be all they get. They need below freezing at night and high 30s up to mid-40s in the daytime to make the sap run.

A view of the boiling sap within the tank.
One of the homeschool fathers present asked a little more about the tank and where it had come from. Don related that he and Roger had bought a used milk tank, removed the insulation to make the large pan that boils their sap. The homeschool father shared that he had been the one that delivered them the tank from his father’s farm!

After Don asked for questions and answered them, we filed outside. There he showed us 24 samples from last year lined up in order from the beginning of the season to the end. Some were darker. He explained that when the sap begins to stop running, the syrup made from it becomes darker. Sometimes it may happen in the middle of the season, but the most dark syrup comes at the end of the season.

Aww, then, the moment of truth. He passed out the spoons. What does their maple syrup taste like? Delicious! We got to taste the light and the dark syrup. The dark tasted to me almost like King syrup molasses.

The tour over, the children played while their parents lined up to buy some of the precious syrup. As I handed my money to Roger, he handed me a glass bottle of syrup.

What a wonderful day!  Education at its finest!

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