I started out with such high hopes. Images of Little House in the Big Woods filled my head. Did you ever read that book? I've read it hundreds of times, I think. I find it comforting. The part with Grandpa Ingalls and the big kettle in the woods, boiling maple syrup played in my head. I went out figuring, if Grandpa could do this over a big ol' fire, then hey, I can do it over a big ol' fire.
Not having two big trees to hang a kettle from (nor a kettle), I resorted to a modern remedy--old rebar. There was an old, crooked piece in the woods, left by someone at sometime. I'd tripped over it many a time, so I knew where it was. I dragged it out, and my husband cut it into two long lengths. The plan was to put these lengths over the fire pit we'd dug in the fall, prop it on the rocks that surrounded it, and put the pans I'd bought for the occasion over the fire on them. In this case, the pans were two heavy-duty foil roasters. I figured with all that surface area, the sap would evaporate quickly and syrup would be quick to follow.
This is what it looked like:
The two pans were there for a reason. One was to boil down into syrup, and the other was to heat the sap, so when the first pan started to evaporate and there was less in it, I could take warm sap from the other pan and not stop the boil. But it never boiled, because it was too far away from the fire. However, it was evaporating all right, and then my son tripped over the rebar on the side of the pit and knocked all the sap into the fire. Yeay. So I took the rebar out, my husband straightened it, and we tried again. Now it looked like this:
Much closer to the fire this time, and actually, it did boil.
But not for long. It had taken 3 hours to get the sap to boil at all, and it would only hold for 5 minutes at a time and go back to a nice simmer. I quickly discovered that getting the sap to boil consistently was nearly impossible. The fire would not cooperate--the wind would blow the flames every which way, and the boil would stop. The wood was being burnt at a rapid pace, and when it got too little, the boil would stop. Being as though the pan was so close to the fire, I couldn't really put heaps of wood on it, so I was feeding it little bits at a time constantly. This was extremely labor intensive. I started the process at 9 in the morning, and it was 1 o'clock. I had made no progress other than getting the last batch of sap to turn the lightest of yellows. My son had tripped and spilled the sap, and I had knocked it all into the fire twice while adding wood. This was not working. Grandpa Ingalls was obviously magical.
I had had it. I couldn't keep the boil, the smoke kept getting in my eyes no matter where I went around the pit, I was cold, I was damp from the ground, I was filthy and stinky and I had burnt most of my fingers. I know when I'm licked. But I didn't want to work all this time without anything to show for it. Besides, I had ALL that sap in the basement, just waiting for me. So I went another route; the barbeque. This worked slightly better. The boil was faster, but it wasn't constant enough.
Again, I used the two pan setup. The frying pan was for the "hard" boil, and the roaster on the other side was for the warming up of the sap that would be added. The wood you see was to stop that lovely wind from blowing the flame about, which it did anyway.
Again, boiling constantly eluded me. I'd get a nice simmer, and sometimes a bit of a boil, but it wasn't going to do it. To get any progress, it would have to boil, hard and constantly, and it was just not happening. I spent an hour fiddling with it, and gave up. I took the sap inside.
At two o'clock, after
This is 1 1/2 cups of syrup from what I believe is 4 1/2 gallons of sap. We used a total of 6 1/2 gallons today, and spilled a lot of it, so this is the left over from that. I have 7 gallons left in the basement. I've heard that 10 gallons of sap makes one quart of syrup, so I think that is about right. I'll be honest, though, I lost track after it spilled the second time. By the time it spilled the third time, I was just pouring the sap in willy nilly, not even paying any attention to which gallon I was up to. So it is what it is. A cup and a half of syrup.
Was it worth it? Yeah-ish? Is that an answer? It is unbelievably good, that's for sure. It's thick (I probably went a little too far with the boil, but oh well), it's rich, and it tastes like sweet, sweet trees. It's complex and wonderful. On the other hand, it took me 8 and a half hours to get 1 1/2 cups of syrup. That's just ridiculous.
There has GOT to be an easier way. While the smoke was blowing in my face for the umpteenth time this morning, I kept thinking turkey fryer, turkey fryer. I think that might work. Will it be faster? I don't think so. This doesn't seem to be a quick process. Will it be less frustrating? I hope so.
So stay tuned. I again have 10 gallons of sap, because today I collected 3 more, so I've got a lot more boiling to do. I think for now it'll be done in the house a little at a time, with the windows wide open and the vent fan on. If you've ever done this yourself and can give me pointers on the boiling, please feel free. I am open to suggestion.