Catrina's Garden

A place for gardeners, foodies and garden inspired artists.

Tag: Maple

Maple Sugarin’

Early spring in Catrina’s Garden means maple sugarin’ time. We’ve been sugarin’ for 20 years since moving “up north”, beginners by the standards of our neighbors. We are not a large commercial operation. We do it for fun and currently tap around 30 trees each year. We do it the old fashioned way, making actual maple syrup “liquid gold” to feast on.

We look at maple sugarin’ as a time to celebrate the changing of the seasons, spend some time in the woods and use the sweet gifts that the trees around us provide. After the first year; experiencing the magic of turning a byproduct of nature into a delicious treat, we have done it year after year. We consume it ourselves and give it as gifts. We also use it to “barter” for other products from nature that we love….like morel mushrooms. It’s a great activity for kids, or a chance to invite the neighbors over.

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

The trees most commonly used to make syrup are Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), but other maple species and even walnuts or birch can also produce syrup, though it is not commonly thought to be as good. I am often asked how to tell them apart from the red maple which also grows in abundance here. Look at the leaf margins; the area between the lobes of the maple leaf. A sugar maple will have a smooth U shaped leaf margin Maple Syrup Sap sign in the snow1and a red maple will have a slightly serrated V shaped leaf margin.

Maple Syrup drilling holes1Maple Syrup Pounding in taps1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 21The ritual starts in March when those first lovely warm days roll around. Usually our modern weather people can predict these days. That way we can start getting ready ahead of time, but when we start seeing signs in the snow like this, we know it’s time to start tappin’. Simply drill a hole, stick in the tap and hang the bucket. You drill in at a slight upward angel, about an inch and a half to 2 inches. Be careful not to pound too hard when inserting the tap or you could split the tree. Use trees that are at least a foot around and if you have a really big tree you can place more than one tap.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5When the days are warm and the nights are cold this is when the clear sap begins dripping….or pouring from the trees. It’s a lot of work. Sap is collected daily or sometimes more often. We have no “lines” like the big guys and since we don’t tap too many trees we store the sap until we have enough to “cook”. It’s a lot of work. You can burn of that winter fat. The sap must be kept cold. We keep 40 or 60 gallon cans packed in snow on the north side of the shed where it slides off the roof.

So what makes a “good tree”? I think more than anything it is placement.  If the sun shines on the trunk it runs well. Some years when we are lazy and the snow is really deep we just tap the trees that are near the driveway and we do fine.

Filter the sap when you put it in the pan and again when you take it off to remove impurities and debris. Rain is your enemy. If you use open buckets you may have to dump some sap if you have a lot of rain. A sugar shack is nice for cookin’ but if you don’t have one cover the pan and wait till it stops if you have a hard rain.

It’s time to cook when we have about 150 gallons.  It roughly takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sap is usually around 2-3% sugar and syrup is 62% sugar.

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We add nothing to the sap but heat; lots of heat. We cook in a shallow pan over a wood fire. We cook….and cook….and cook….for days. Sometimes foam will develop. Skim that off. This is a good chance to “make wood” too! What else are you going to do while you are standing around waiting for the sap to cook? If it was a hard winter you may need some more wood to cook the sap, because you are out, and you may as well put some up for next year so that it can age.

1Maple syrup in jarMaple Syrup on spoonWhen it starts to get thick you better watch it closely. We used to “finish it” in the pan but we lost a few batches by burning it, having it turn to rock candy or spilling it on the ground when “taking it off” in the middle of the night. Now we cover it when it is getting close and let the fire go out; getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and finish it the next day in a turkey roaster. I wouldn’t recommend finishing it in your kitchen though some people do it. The cupboards and floor stay sticky for a very long time. Keep a 5 gallon bucket of sap on the side that you can add at the end if necessary. Sometimes it can “turn the corner” quickly.

The old timers can just tell when it is done. We use a hydrometer to measure the viscosity of the syrup; to make sure that it is perfect every time. Bottle and enjoy!

Root Cellar Carrots – Maple Glaze Recipe

Purple Haze carrots and sugar snack carrots I got a little carried away with the carrots this year. We had quite a few different colors. The gold and white varieties are pretty but I really like the dark red and purple ones. The have way more beta carotene than a standard carrot, and are simply beautiful on the plate. Having unusual colored veges is always a great way to get people talking at the pot luck too. These are Purple Haze and Sugar Snack Carrots at the peak of the season.

Holly with carrots1Carrots are such a fun crop for kids to grow too. They just love all the different colors and are more likely to actually eat them if they saw them being produced.

This time of year all of the best and most beautiful veges are long gone. The sweet crisp, thin skinned carrots don’t store very well, but I still had a bucket of Danvers and Bolero carrots which I grow for eating later in the winter. I do have a root cellar, so that helps. It’s best to store them at a temp from the high 30’s to the low 40’s. The trick is to keep them moist enough so that they don’t shrivel up but not so moist that they rot. I use a mix of half sand half garden soil. Whatever you do don’t wash them before you store them, you can remove the leaves, but don’t cut off the tops and when you bury them in the sand, try to arrange them so they don’t touch. These storage varieties have more fiber and starch but bolero has a thinner core than Danvers, and both of them are great cooked; much better than anything you would get in the grocery store this time of year.

So I dug the last of them out and this is what I made with them. The maple syrup and orange makes up for these storage carrots being a little less sweet. We cook our own maple syrup here in Wisconsin; not for production or sale…yet. We just do small batches for ourselves and for gifts.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5You could use store bought syrup but nothing beats pure 100% maple syrup. Check back for more on “sugarin” in spring.

So here’s the recipe:

Maple Glazed Carrots

½ cup pure maple syrup

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cup orange juice – You can use a little lemon or lime juice in place of the orange if you like it a little more tart

2 oranges or one small can of mandarin oranges

¼ cup water

1 ½ tbsp. cornstarch

1# sliced or diced carrots

1-2 tbsp. butter (you can use olive oil if you are worried about it)

½ cup Parsley (you can use fresh mint too if you have some. Pineapple or other fruit flavored mints are especially good.)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Maple Glazed Carrots - CopyFirst make the maple the glaze: Place maple syrup, cinnamon stick, orange juice and oranges in pan and simmer lightly. Break up the oranges with the spatula. In a cup, stir together water and cornstarch until smooth. Add the cornstarch slurry slowly into the maple mixture, and continue to simmer and stir over low heat until it is thickened. This may take a while; be patient and don’t turn up the heat too high. Remove the cinnamon stick and any skins and pith from the oranges.

Sauté the carrots in the butter or oil until they are starting to get soft; how soft is really up to you, I know people who insist that the carrots aren’t done unless they are really soft, I tend to like them a little firmer.

Add the maple glaze, salt, pepper and herbs. If you use fresh oranges you can zest them before you peel them and then add the zest at the end for extra bright citrus flavor. This makes 4 to 6 servings.

Enjoy a taste of summer from your root cellar.

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