March 26, 2007


After 219*-220* is reached at the arch, they bring me the syrup to finish off. Basically what this means is..... we filter it again and then it goes into my stock pots to bring back up to 220* and then I can or bottle it!

There is a definate difference between 218*/219* and 220*!! These two pictures will show you ... the first one is hot but still smooth on top. In the second picture the syrup hit 220* and is boiling away! I think it is such a pretty color!! (the picture doesn't show it very well!)NOW... at this point I could let it continue to boil (WATCHING CLOSELY.... because cleaning up the stove top is a PAIN in the neck! Yes, I do know this FIRST HAND!) and it will eventually evaporate most all of the liquid out of it and become sugar.... like a brown sugar consistancy at 228*. (I reserve the ends of each batch of syrup and will reheat it to make the damp sugar at a later point!)
By 10:30 PM last night..... we have 7 1/4 gallons of syrup!!! (And the buckets are gonna be ready to empty again this afternoon!) Phew..... are you tired yet?!

"We've Reached 220*F..."

The sap was boiled all afternoon..... Pete predicted that around 6PM he'd be ready to take off the pan. It was closer to 7PM when he called up here for the boys to come down and help! They need at least 3 pairs of hands to do this part.....

Two of them lift the HOT pan off the fire with HOT sticky maple syrup sloshing around and pour it into filters in buckets guided by the third one. (Yes, work gloves are required!)From here they carry the buckets up to the kitchen where we filter it again into my stock pots to finish!!

March 25, 2007

"Boiling...... All Are Welcome to Drop In!"

The boys have been keeping up with the collecting and boiling part of the sugaring process!! Thank God for the boys!! :) You can see from this picture, our 'Sugar Shack' is just that.... a shack of sorts! The metal roofing went on last summer and even has a vent on the top so that the steam (evaporation) can escape! We collect wood scraps all year 'round and after stacking it all up around the inside it is stored under the tarps to the right of the doorway. The pallets are covering up the mouddy walkway!
In this picture you can see the 55 gallon barrel tipped on its side... that is our 'holding tank' where the sap is poured waiting to be boiled. If you look closely you can see a clear hose coming out of the bottom right end of the barrel... this hosing leads the sap to the evaporating pan!! The orange hose is a pressure relief valve... (In the event that the metal tubing overheats it will re-route the HOT sap back into the white barrel.) Travis is 'taste-testing' the "Not Quite Maple Syrup" with a few friends that stopped in to see the maple sugaring process. We really enjoy sharing the fun we've had and the things we've learned along our journey with others!

I just was told that they have about 180 gallons of sap in process as I type! The sap needs to be brought up to 219*-220* before it is 'syrup'.and can be bottled! That may not sound too bad, but consider that the water is being evaporated off and more sap is continually being added this process takes time... And to think...... it all starts with the dribbles of sap from the Sugar Maple Tree!!

March 15, 2007

"Collecting..." Part 2

At this point Austin & Travis take the sap into the 'Sugar House' and pour it into the big white holding tank. Pete and the boys rigged up a way to have the sap continually dribble into the arch for boiling (an adjustable flow system). We/they have worked to add & upgrade our system over the past 4 years.

We started with an arch made of cinder blocks, a chimney and a couple of small boiling pans. That was fun but, oh sooo smokey! Since our first attempt we made adjustments until we arrived at the system that we have now.... an enclosed hut (sugar house) with an elevated holding tank, side walls that can be flapped up if it gets tooo warm, inside wood storage, a bench and even a steam escape in the new roof!! It has been quite the family project! I'm not sure what the next upgrades will be... but I bet there will be some!

To answer another question.... weather is a major factor because if the sap gets too warm it will ferment and the syrup will be very dark. The lighter the sap the better the grade and the higher the value! :) A couple of years ago we made maple sugar.... with some of the 'extra' maple syrup. It was similar in consistancy to brown sugar and I used it as such....
it was YUMMY!

Here is a picture of the 'firebox' inside the arch. (the arch is where the cooking happens) You can see the brick lining and grate which houses the fire! In one of the pictures above you can see Austin leaning over the arch making sure everything is ok. You'll see the metal frame over the brick... on top of this hole goes a huge pan (I think it is 2'X4') and the wood is added in through a door on the end of the arch. They use gasket rope (like is used around the doors of a woodstove) to seal the top opening when the pan is set on top. It keeps the heat & smoke in the arch. (the smoke now goes up the chimney instead of
filling the sugar house!) :)

Now.... starts the boiling, finishing and packaging process!

Collecting... Part 1

The sap has been running and the boys have started to collect!! Travis is removing one of the buckets and pours the sap into another bucket to carry to the jeep.

At this point the sap is poured into a large gathering tank (ok, you'd recognize it from Walmart as a trash container).
Austin is doing the pouring. He is filtering it to remove any larger debris such as bark from the tree or whatever...

The kids have used sap in the coffee maker to make their coffee in the morning! Since I don't drink coffee I just take their word on it being good! :) This year they have been using Travis's jeep to collect in!! I guess there is enough room... in years past we've used the family van keeping the back hatch up for easy access.

Here's a full barrel of sap..... isn't it beautiful! Nice and clear... Now to answer to one of the questions from the previous post, it takes about 33-40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup!! (The variance is the amount of sugar in the sap.) After making it... we can surely understand why it is sooo expensive to buy!

From here we head to the arch........

March 5, 2007

"And The Buckets Were Hung on the Trees With Great Care..."

'Tis the season... no, not for hanging stockings by the fireplace but for hanging buckets on Sugar Maple trees!! Pete and the boys hung 37 buckets and I'm not sure how many spiles (probably around 75) over the past two weekends! We have looked into running sap lines but personally, I like the look of buckets better!! Yes, it is more labor intensive as we have to go collecting and emptying all of the buckets.... but that is part of the fun! The sap has started to run and most likely we'll start the boiling process by next weekend...... all depending on the weather of course! I'll do my best at keeping you all updated as the process continues!

Do you know your maple sugar facts......
1) How many gallons of sap does it take to make 1 gallon of maple syrup?
2) How hot does the sap need to get in order to become syrup?
3) Why is it so weather dependent?

March 2, 2007


Thursday at the end of Pete's work day, he had this conversation...... "Well, today is the twin's 17th birthday." Larry responded... "Oh ya, which one?" :) Pete smile and replied, "both of them!"

We've had some funny questions asked of us....... "Are they identical?" (knowing full well that they are BOY/GIRL twins). I KNOW that there are NO DUMB questions, but some of them sure do tickle my funny bone!! :)

The second most asked question is: "Who's older?" The answer in our house is: Audrey is older by 45 minutes!! AND.... YES, 45 minutes does make a difference!! (It does to her and did to me too!) LOL

They REALLY do have a closeness that is sometimes attributed to 'twin-ness'!! The other day Audrey was doing dishes and Austin came into the room and just stopped.... she turned around and he said to her... "Were you just thinking about Radar having a funny laugh?" (the tv was on and had just played a commercial for MASH) She said, "Ya, I was!!" LOL It happens to them quite a bit...

When they were little they used to sit across from each other at the table. Audrey would eat all her veggies and Austin would eat all of his meat then they would trade dishes and finish eating!!
Austin is still quite carnivorous (although he LOVES salads!) and Audrey still loves veggies... but will eat meat too!! :)

We just had this conversation tonight....... "REMEMBER when Austin was little.... he used to always run to dad when he came home from work and announce all the happenings of the day. He was sooo funny!" We didn't realize when he was a baby that we had named him so appropriately! Austin Peter Blake..... AKA "our little APB... All Points Bulletin!" :)
This picture is Travis about 4-5 years old, Audrey (pink) and Austin (red) about 2-3 years old!! Aren't they soooo cute!! (They HATE this picture.... but I just LOVE IT!)

What a blessing they are to us!! I can't imagine what life would be like without any of our four teens!! Perhaps a bit more quiet.... but definitely LESS in every other category!! Gotta love 'em!!


March 1st ... a fantastic day!! Audrey & Austin are now officially 17 and the celebration has just begun! Since they both work on Thursdays..... they had to work on their birthday this year. Their fellow employees surprised them by having cake and ice cream for everyone and they got many "Happy Birthday" wishes from co-workers & customers!!

Not ONLY did they have to work on their birthday, but they also have 'Worship Team Practice' on Thursday nights.... so they literally ONLY have about 1 hour between coming home and leaving again! We made the best of it! I asked them what they wanted for dinner. I was thinking about take out Chinese, but they said it would be tooo rushed and they'd rather savor it on another night! They both thought and totally agreed on "Pesto Chicken"........ (In my mind I was thrilled... that is a quick & easy meal to make and we haven't had it in a LONG, LONG time!)

On the home front; now that I had my 'mission' I went to work........ I hit the grocery store before coming home so I'd have all the necessary ingredients!! (I also had another errand that I needed to leave home for which cut deeply into my work time!) I worked to accomplish making TWO cakes (got one almost done) and have the pesto chicken, tossed garden salad & garlic bread all done by 6PM.... phew!!

EVERYONE LOVED their dinner....... the cakes will be for Friday instead of Thursday!! (They had one at work and one at worship team practice... so to have two more would be a bit much!)Goal for the day: finish the cakes!!! Austin's 'Jello Cake' only needs the whipped cream frosting!! (It is a cake that requires baking, cooling, making jello & pouring it on the cold cake, refrigerating so the jello sets, then frosting it! Not hard at all... just time consuming!) Audrey will probably have a 'Boston Creme Cake' which also has a few steps to create..... I'll take pictures and post them AFTER the cakes are finished!!

IF we don't get the 'promised/threatened' 10-20 inches of snow today then MAYBE we can do the take-out Chinese tonight! OR MAYBE.... I'll just start now and make my own Fried Rice, Sweet & Sour Chicken, General Gao's Chicken, Egg Foo Yong etc...... I sense another busy day ahead of me!