Maple Syrup Experiment

I have talked for a couple of years about trying to make Maple syrup. We have five beautiful Maples close around the house and while I don't know the exact varieties, I wanted to give it a try. As a child my family occassionally tried to make some, although the flavor was never quite what I was after.

I did some research and found out that Sugar Maples (obviously) and Red Maples provide the best quality sap, while other varieties will not be quite as good, but still viable alternatives.

I'm fussy, so I tried to get a good idea of what varieties we have here - and found what I think are Red Maples to tap. We have several Silver Maples, but the sap from those isn't so good, and since I was not after large quantities I opted against tapping those trees.

I went to the local Tractor Supply to pick up several taps, a skimmer, some bags, and bag holders. The bag concept seemed like a neat idea, but in reality I felt it didn't work out well. Some of the bags leaked, and occasionally they would slide out of the holder and spill the precious sap all over the ground. Next year, I will use buckets. I'm sure there is a good reason the professionals in our area use buckets or tubing as opposed to bags.

I had a two gallon bucket for fermenting handy, but quickly discovered I would need some more storage, so I ordered the same bucket in the six gallon size.

I seasoned a Dutch oven, and used a Lodge campfire tripod to suspend it to cook the sap down over a fire. I used mostly Walnut firewood. I can almost think I taste a little of that in the sap, but it could be my imagination.

There is a LOT of cooking required to turn sap into syrup! I was not too fussy with the process, and it certainly can be done more efficiently with low, flat pans as opposed to a deep Dutch oven.

For all that, six gallons of sap cooked down to about 2 cups of syrup. This was the BEST TASTING SYRUP I HAVE EVER HAD. Others who tried it agreed to its merit.

The trick in the final cookdown is to get the temperature correct: 7 degrees Fahrenheit above boiling: 219 degrees F, or 104 degrees C. My thermometer reads more easily on the Celsius scale, so I aimed for that. Too high - and you'll have Maple candy. Too low and the sryup will be watery and spoil more quickly.

I have to say, the syrup was thicker than other store-bought natural Maple syrup - which I often find too runny. The flavor was strong, but good.

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Maple Syrup

Enjoy generously!

Book Review - 'The General in the Garden'

My dear Sarah picked this book up for me for my birthday last month, after hearing me talk about Mount Vernon and the gardens there.

I was so excited to get this book! Filled with brilliant photographs, the horticultural history of Washington's mansion and grounds is documented within.

I was very impressed by the staff's dedication to historical accuracy. At one point, they tore up several hundred tulips because, upon blooming, they discovered the variety was not period correct to George Washinton's day!

This book also reveals a side to Washington few have considered. Even while fighting the Revolutionary War and as President, his heart was with his home, and his gardens. Presented within are letters to caretakers, gardeners, and others to dictate the planting and propagation of plants. Washington himself kept an experimental garden to test plants sent to him against the Virginia climate.

The authors include historical documentation on the purchases of plants by Washington from other nurseries in the Colonial era; a fascinating and inspiring look at his gardening interests.

I have been duly inspired in my own gardening aspirations after reading this book; though it must be admitted that Washington had a lot of help in managing his estate. Through my own limited means my goal is to combine landscape gardening with the practical kitchen garden, which is very much aligned with the practicality espoused in the gardens of Mount Vernon.