Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tap, Tap, Tap

A few weeks ago I received a Direct Message on Twitter from my friend, Kelly, that said:

Sap is running!

That was it.  Three words.  But as soon as I read those three words I was looking at my calendar and planning a weekend trip.  The sap is running.  It's maple syrup time in Wisconsin. 

I've never seen maple syrup being tapped from trees, but its been on my list of things to-do for the past several years.  Kelly and her family run a maple farm in Eastern Wisconsin and she and her husband recently moved back home to help with the business (in their free time, they are both still working full-time jobs and commuting an hour to and from the city.  Ugh.  Kelly, you are a better person than me.)  I've wanted to get over there to visit them for awhile and when she said the sap was running I knew it was time. Unfortunately our calendar in March was pretty booked up, but luckily the sap runs for 4 to 5 weeks and it was still running last weekend so we packed up and headed over.

Before we went out to see the trees and to the sap house Kelly took us to see her chickens.  If you've been reading for any length of time than you know I was pretty much in heaven.  I want chickens SO BAD.  Collin keeps telling me they smell but guess what??!!  No smell.  At all.  They were just beautiful, soft, tasty egg-laying birds.  Oh, and friendly, really friendly, I was quite surprised at how gentle they were. 

Kelly let Keaton throw some sunflower seeds to the chickens, which meant he was pretty much in heaven.  Busha loves birds and loves to feed the birds and Keaton has learned a thing or two from her.  His favorite thing now is to throw out any bread crumbs, "froom, feed birds, nom nom nom" (his words, not mine.)

While he loved feeding them, he was a little tentative to touch them.  But we did finally get him to pet this guy.

After the chickens we walked up to see the sap house. 

But before I take you there, let's go visit the woods....

Shortly after Keaton was born Kelly and Neil were driving through our area after visiting another farm up north to look at their tapping system.  I knew this, and yet driving over there on Saturday afternoon I fully expected to walk out into the woods and be greeted with lots and lots of maples tapped with a spicket, a bag and a bucket. 

Much to my surprise, and Collin's, we were both thinking buckets, the trees were tapped using these blue tubes - I do not know the technical term here - that were attached to each of the trees.  There was a vacuum that sucked the tap from the trees and more blue tubes that ran it through the woods and into a "collection bin." 

Kelly showing us the collection bin - once full they'll come with a tractor to pick it up and carry it to the sap house for boiling.
If you look really closely you can see some sap swirling around in there.
Kelly was such a great tour guide. There was another family there with us visiting and she explained it all to the adults and showed everything to the kids.  Like how the vacuum feels.

Kelly is expecting her first baby at the end of July - doesn't she look awesome!?

At the end of the season they'll take all of the taps and lead hoses out - throwing out the end of the tap and cleaning the lead hoses for next season.  When they re-tap the trees next year they'll move the hole to another part of the tree (Kelly, if I'm getting any of this wrong correct me in the comments, Please!!)

Hutt refused to drink his bottle before we left (the story of our lives these days!) and was crabby while we were in the woods.  But Keaton had a ball.  Although by the look of this picture you'd think it was the exact opposite.

I got to tromp around in Kelly's farm boots and now I want my own pair.  And chickens.

So now let's go back to the sap house...

We were lucky enough to go on a day where they were not only collecting sap, but also boiling it - turning it into syrup.

The sap that is collected in the woods that we walked through is hauled to the sap house by tractor.  The sap collected in the woods right behind the sap house is transported through the pipes/tubing directly into holding tanks in the barn.  It is then put into tubs like this until it is moved into the "cooker" - again, I do not know the technical terms here.  This tank was holding 836 gallons of sap.  The conversion of sap to syrup is 40:1, so this tank will make roughly 21 gallons of syrup. Preboiled the sap tastes sort of like sugar water, but not overly sweet.

This is the "cooker" which boils the sap - I'm not even going to attempt to explain the boiling process except to say it gets the sap really, really hot and boils it down to the correct sugar content and to 100% pure syrup.  There are no additives.  I think this is what impressed me the most. I buy the syrup bottles, they say 100% pure, I try to get brands that also say "made in Wisconsin" but I guess I never really let my mind take in exactly what this means.  100% means just that, it is 100% pure. maple. syrup.  That is absolutely awesome to me.  Sap. Straight from the trees.  Boiled. Deliciousness.

We got to taste test this batch and O.M.G.  Sweet. Sweet. Goodness.  We bought a gallon.  For ourselves.  Because this is the awesome thing, maple syrup doesn't freeze, so we stuck it in the freezer to keep it fresh and when our little bottle in the fridge runs low we'll just fill 'er up. 

The next morning Keaton woke up and asked for 'pa takes' (pancakes) for breakfast and I've been putting it in my tea at night as a natural sweetener.  And each time I have it I can't help but think, this stuff is AMAZING!

I'm so glad we finally made it over there.  Kelly, it was great to see you guys - thanks so much for the awesome day!


Ashleigh said...

This sounded like so much fun! My brother got to make maple syrup with one of his classes and we used up what he brought home pretty quickly! Try it over vanilla ice cream! You won't be disappointed...

Kelly said...

And I had a great time showing you guys around! It was so great to see you!

I loved how you explained the process. For those who are interested, the lead from the tree are actually called a dropline and the part the goes in the tree is a spile. And the big boiler is called an evaporator.

Oh and Kate - those farm boots are super cheap. Like $20 at Fleet Farm. And watch craigslist for chickens, or you can always order a batch of baby chicks online and they come in the mail! Now, you just have to convince Collin to make you a coop!

CLAREW said...

This is awesome!!! How fun that must of been.

Amanda said...

Looks like so much fun and what a great learning experience once the boys are older :) I would love to take B&C there!

I agree on the syrup on ice cream, delish!!!

As for the chickens, I'd love some too and A is actually on board w that thought once we have more land--I will have him talk to Collin.

And as always, you should be a writer---love the posts!

Em said...

Oh man, you totally have my mouth watering now with all this pure maple syrup talk. Now that I've had the good stuff--the 100% pure, really good stuff--I don't think I can ever go back! So neat that you guys got to go experience the process!

P.S. I hope that you can get you some of those boots. (oh, and maybe some chickens--sorry, Collin! ;))

CaSondra Shim said...

Thanks for posting- sounds like a great trip and educational for all. So laughed at the picture where you said Hutt was upset and Keaton was happy and their facial expressions where switched- so funny. I just love you guys to pieces! Miss you tons!