I'm driving along and I see steam pouring out of a sugar shack and I just have to stop. It's so beautiful the way it flows out of the roof and fills the air with the sweet smell of maple. And it's so magical to take tree sap and turn it into sweets. I've been making myself stop and take pictures, since they won't be boiling for much longer:
I realized I still hadn't been to South Face Farm, probably the biggest Maple Syrup producer in Ashfield, and the weather was improving fast, so I took a detour on the way home. I was not disappointed. South Face Farm is a gorgeous place,
with these incredible views, that even in colorless March holds a clear promise of summer.
There was a huge cloud of steam billowing from the roof and a large crowd of people waiting for tables at the temporary restaurant serving pancakes inside. I made my way over to the boiler and found Tom McCrumm, explaining maple syrup production to a couple who had driven three hours from the eastern end of the state just to have breakfast here.
Tom has a cool setup, with a thermometer connected to an automatic switch that lets the maple syrup flow out when it hits 7 degrees above the boiling point of water (which in turn can depend on the weather). He then checks the density with a hydrometer and adjusts as necessary (by adding lighter syrup).
According to South Face Farm's web site, they set 3000 taps, collect around 60,000 gallons of sap during the six weeks of Maple season each year, and boil it down into around 1500 gallons of syrup.
At our place, we've got a much simpler operation... We started with three taps and some recycled plastic milk containers. That first year, we built a fire around cinderblocks and boiled the syrup in a big paella pan. It was a bit of an art to get the paella pan really straight so that the bottom wouldn't burn on one side or flow over the top of the other. Maybe we made a gallon or so that year.
Last year, we bought a second-hand evaporator pan that measures about 2' x 2'. DH built a barbecue out of bricks and we put the evaporator on top. It was a great year for Maple... we made 11 gallons.
This year, DH added a chimney to the barbecue and it really helps keep the smoke directed up and not all over us (which is romantic, but still stings the eyes). It's a huge improvement. But it's been a hard year for syrup. We got walloped by that ice storm in December, and it's gotten unseasonably warm very early as well. We probably won't make more than 5 or 6 gallons this year. But since we didn't finish last year's, we're not too worried.
I just discovered some maple cream that we had made last year and abandoned, thinking it was a flop. It has mellowed from the grainy mess it started out as, and now it's quite delicious!
More pictures of Maple Syrup production here.