Tapping

We had a warm spell the other weekend so we strapped on our snowshoes and tapped some trees. It was quite windy! Since then the temperature has dropped again and the wind has picked up. Nevertheless, we know spring is on its way and our taps will be ready when the sap starts to run.

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When Goats Eat Your Trees

Two things you should know about goats: 1) if there’s a way to get out they’ll find it and 2) once they’re out they will eat kill your trees. This is true any time of year but especially so during the winter when the snow pack renders the fence about 1 foot high and trees are the only thing available to eat. Besides the ample, but less desirable, hay in their barn.

The goats sampled many trees this winter. One of them was our lilac tree. All it took was 5 seconds and they had killed it. I have a faint hope that maybe a shoot or two that was buried deep beneath the snow will survive and grow. The outlook is pretty grim.

Anyways, I have a few ideas to put the wood to use. One of them was to whittle a crochet hook. It’s actually really easy. I haven’t sanded it yet but it works just fine.

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The branch I started with:

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sharing with:

KCCO

Homemade Doughnuts!

           I think we found ourselves a new fall tradition – making homemade doughnuts!             While I’m not the biggest doughnut fan in the family I won’t turn one down either. They make an extra special and festive breakfast, snack, or if they last that long, dessert. Especially with a cup of tea, coffee or milk. If you’ve never had one before HOT doughnuts really are that much more delicious!

DSCN3737I started the season by making apple spice doughnuts, perfect for fall. The recipe came with a deep fryer that was gifted to me. It’s a great cake doughnut recipe but it does call for an hour of chilling time. While an hour allows plenty of time to clean up, set up the fryer, paper and sugar for topping, and don’t forget, setting up the coffee maker! We’re a bit impatient. Once we’ve got the dough/batter made the little ones start asking “are the doughnuts are ready yet?!” So I found a quick and easy recipe that’s ready to go right away. The dough is a bit soft so I do let it chill for about 15 minutes and do a quick cleaning/ setting up. Bonus! This recipe is even crisper on the outside and, while it’s still a cake doughnut, it’s not quite so dense and filling. Also, this recipe uses butter whereas a lot of doughnut recipes call for shortening.

DSCN4124Just for the fun of it, the boys pick out various cookie cutter shapes to make the doughnuts. Once we get down to the small scraps I switch to doughnut holes.

DSCN3726So far, we’ve tried stars, trees, snowflakes (my favorite because they have more crispy points) and small leaves.

 If you don’t have a deep fryer you could fry them up on the stove top in a heavy pan, like a cast iron skillet or dutch oven. Just remember to use caution, it’s extremely hot and prone to splattering.

Now for the recipe! I found it on allrecipies.com. For your convenience I’ll reproduce it here. I also found this recipe for yeast raised doughnuts but I haven’t tried those yet. It’s easy enough the kids pretty much mix it up themselves. I referee the turn taking and make sure they use the right measuring spoon, and of course I do the frying!

Plain Cake Doughnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 dash ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 quart oil for frying

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg (add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you want spiced donuts, otherwise you don’t really taste the spice). Mix in butter until crumbly. Stir in milk and egg until smooth. Knead lightly. Chill slightly to make working with the dough easier. Turn out onto a floured surface. Roll or pat to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with a doughnut cutter, or use two round biscuit cutters of different sizes or cookie cutters.
  2.  Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  3. Carefully drop doughnuts into hot oil, a few at a time (like 3). Do not overcrowd pan. Fry, turning once, until golden. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with sugar or spiced sugar.

DSCN4119Enjoy!

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barn hop

wild crafting wednesday

Over the Weekend

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:

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To this:

DSCN9841It’s finally starting to look like spring is on it’s away around here.

DSCN9868So 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.

DSCN9869Since 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.

DSCN9874So yesterday Ishi and I went around and collected the sap.

DSCN9878The first buckets didn’t have too much sap yet. I use my own methods to boil the sap down; it takes a while, so I don’t want build up too much in sap storage.

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DSCN9848The trees on the other side of the field held a surprise for us-

DSCN9890our 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.

DSCN9891Boiling it down has begun. Here’s to a great season- and syrup on waffles!

Here are some links to last year’s sap collecting posts back in Maine, using our previous collection method. An informational how to: Sap to Syrup  and photos: Tapping the Trees: A Short Photo Essay.

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Sap to Syrup

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.

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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).

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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.

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Snow Days

Once again we got snow just in time for the holidays (8-9 inches).  Thanksgiving was gorgeous; the photos don’t do justice but I was limited on time while feeding the animals- had to get the turkey in the oven!

Once that was taken care of I had a little time to make a bit of progress on my pullover (it’s the oatmeal pullover by Jane Richmond). Such a gratifying knit- simple pattern and it’s knitting up fast thanks to the bulky baby alpaca  (oh my does it feel nice!). Good thing too, with three little ones to create handmade gifts for this year.

So what about you- What are you creating?

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