Last week Struggling_along brought me home a surprise – a stack of metal syruping buckets with lids and spiles! It was like Christmas. I had resigned myself long ago that metal buckets were too expensive. Luckily Struggling_along just happened to be at the feed store at the right moment (ordering this year’s chicks) and he was able to snatch up the last of these previously used buckets sold by a man getting out of the business. Score!
And it was perfectly timed too as this weekend it finally warmed up, and even rained!
We went from this:
So the boys and I went around identifying our maples and fighting over who got to drill which tree and whether the person who drilled also got to use the hammer to tap the spile in. There was also much sap sampling- straight from the tap of course.
Since then I can’t count the number of times we’ve crossed the field to check on the sap levels. We have 4 buckets on each side of the field. It’s quite the journey across because it’s a ways, plus, every step has to be taken with caution. Sometimes the crust holds us up, or we may sink an inch or two, but the next step may send us suddenly lurching forward, sinking us down past our knees and potentially onto our faces, or alternatively, stuck like a turtle on our backs. It’s all good fun though.
our first full bucket. Those buckets are deceptive – they hold a lot! It just about filled my 5 gallon pail and with the little bit from the other buckets I had a slow return journey trying not to slosh sap over the sides of the pail.
The boys are constantly picking flowers in that enthusiastic way little kids have. Amongst the plethora of flowers I started thinking maybe we should take advantage of this and make something….then I saw a post showing how violets start out as a dark blue infusion but the infusion “magically” transforms into a brilliant purple when lemon juice is added. Sounds like fun and even if the jelly wasn’t a hit at least we’d have a little experiment to do. Hence this:
The process is simple- cover the petals in an equal amount of boiled water and let sit for several hours or in the fridge overnight. I used a cup of petals for the violet and apple jellies and a half of a cup of petals for the dandelion. Strain and add lemon or lime juice, sugar and pectin. Cook as you would for any jelly/ follow your pectin’s instructions. I used Pomona pectin.Basically use the petal water/infusion as if it were juice.
My gift bearers/ helpers turned into eager taste testers. They wanted to eat the whole thing like a bowl of jello (BTW-that’s actually a second jar that was only partly filled).
It was so good ( delicate and decidedly floral) I started pondering “what other blossoms could we try and will they look and taste as awesome?” Two obvious potentials were dandelions and apple blossoms. I had made some really good apple peel jelly before but blossoms would be even easier and they’re free.
I was hoping the dandelion jelly would be a brilliant yellow but once I started the infusion I stopped worrying about the color and started just hoping it wouldn’t taste awful. Even though I cut the green part off the dandelion blossoms started smelling like cooked spinach the second the boiling water hit them.I almost didn’t even try it out but I figured a half mini batch wouldn’t be too big a waste and at least we’d have tried it. It was actually really good.
The apple blossoms smelled wonderful- almost rose like. The petals turned, unsurprisingly, brown. It tastes like apple jelly but just a touch flowery too. Here they are lined up left to right: dandelion, violet, and apple blossom.
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This was our first year tapping our maple trees and what fun it has been! Sadly (for sap collecting) this winter has been mild and thus the sap has not been flowing as it normally does, or so I hear. Sap can be collected from maple, birch as well as walnut trees. I’m not sure what birch or walnut sap is used for but I do know that maple sap makes some deliciously sweet syrup!
If you’re interested in tapping some trees yourself or if you’re just curious about the process here is what we did:
First we identified our maple trees. There are different types of maple trees, most commonly sugar maples are tapped but we only have swamp maples and they work too. Once the daytime temperature is above freezing we tap the trees. This requires a 7/16 drill bit and my favorite tool- the cordless screwdriver/drill. Now you can tap a tree more than once if it is large enough but I only had 8 taps so I placed them around the property- one per tree. Some trees were more productive than others-especially those with more sunlight exposure. So we drilled 2 1/2 inches in- about 3 feet off the ground, on the south side, and when possible over a large root or under a large branch. We tapped the spile in and hooked our jugs on. We used clean milk and water jugs with a hole for the spile to drip the sap into the jug and another hole for the hook to grab on to keeping our bucket on the tree. We made these holes as close to the handle as possible as the plastic is strongest there and as high as we could so the jug could hold more before starting to leak all that precious sap on to the ground. If the tree starts flowing right away it’s not really a steady drizzle but it’s also more than an occasional drip. Now we wait for the sap to accumulate. Once there’s enough (how long this takes depends on the temperature) we pour it into a 5 gallon bucket and since we are a small operation we start boiling it down a little at a time. You can store it longer either outside if it is cold enough or in the fridge or freezer.
You can also drink the sap straight or use it pretty much like water. It tastes like water with a very slight sweetness to it. It’s good! The boys request sap regularly and even run down to steal a swig or two when they can. It takes A LOT of sap to make syrup- it’s a 40:1 ratio. As in 40 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup or for a smaller visual 40oz of sap makes 1 oz syrup (that’s a shot glass).
So far this year we’ve made a little over a quart of finished maple syrup. How you boil it down is up to you- however do it outside as vast amounts of evaporated water is too much for indoors (unless you’re trying to remove wallpaper). Wood heat is common and cheap and commercial evaporators are expensive I decided to use my electric pressure cooker (lidless) set to keep the sap boiling. As the sap cooks down it turns a light amber hue. Keep adding sap and cooking it down. Eventually you’ll have a smaller amount you can finish off on the stove top. How do you know when it’s done? Use a thermometer. Syrup boils at 7 degrees above boiling water. At my elevation water boils at 212F so the syrup is ready at 219F. Then filter, bottle and enjoy!
When temperatures remain above freezing and buds start to form tapping season is over- remove the spiles and remember to leave 6 inches when drilling next year. Over time the previously drilled holes will heal-over.
Hopefully that was through but if I did forget something ask away. I got a lot of my info from tapmytrees.com they also sell tapping supplies but struggling_along brought the spiles at our local hardware store and the jugs I saved as we used them.
To see photos of this process see my recent post Tapping the Trees- A Short Photo Essay.
I was excited to find some eggs and some thyme growing.
Thanks for coming along!
Butter-and-Eggs, also known as Yellow Toadflax, is a common “weed”; often found along the side of the road. The cheery flower, similar to that of snapdragons, are a rich yellow accented with an orange spot.
Our.Wasted.Youth.Crew. and I have been taking nature walks collecting plants and leaves for closer study and identification. We often have a little fun exploring common names and speculating on how it came to be. The first time Noah (our first born) saw an Orange Hawkweed in bloom he said “look! a paintbrush!”. Lo and behold a common name for the Orange Hawkweed is Orange Paintbrush!
The name butter-and-eggs struck me because while it should be obvious that the yellow is the butter and orange the yolk I bet a lot of kids would ask “why is it orange?”. These days butter is white and yolks are yellow.
Free-ranged birds are not only healthier than factory farmed supermarket producers but also also produce healthier eggs. Testing done by Mother Earth News has shown that eggs from pastured birds contain 1/3 the cholesterol, 1/4 saturated fat, almost 3xs the vitamin E, 2xs the omega-3s, 4-6xs the vitamin D and7xs the beta-carotene as the USDA’s standard data does. The higher level of carotenoids are what give the yolks their deep orange color.
Support your local farmer and buy free ranged eggs- it’s better for everyone. (Or try your hand and raise a few chickens yourself- you’ll be glad you did).