Maple Sugaring at Home

First you need a maple tree. There are two reliable methods to be sure you’ve got a maple – opposite branching and brown pointy buds. The internet also has plenty of images you can use as a resource to be sure you’re tapping a maple and not an oak. This late winter weather of cold nights and warmer days is the perfect time to tap, as the contrast in temperatures is what gets the sap moving within the tree.

Opposite branching and brown pointy buds

Next you need to drill a hole into your maple tree. We use a 7/16 inch drill bit to fit our spouts. Choose a tree that looks healthy (no decaying branches or dead-looking spots on the trunk) and is at least 14 inches in diameter (any smaller and your drilling will damage the tree). Drill your hole at a slight upward angle so that the sap runs downward, and while you can choose any part of the tree to drill, we prefer the south facing side in order to maximize sunlight, warmth, and flowing sap.

Drilling the hole

After drilling, clean out any pieces of wood in the hole. Now you can gently hammer in your spout until it fits tightly. We get our spouts from Bascom, but you can get yours from any sugaring supply company, ebay, amazon, or other places. You can also use other materials as a spout (plastic tubing is common), as long as sap is dripping from the tree into your bucket.

Tapping the spout

Hang your bucket! If you’re ordering a bucket from a sugaring company you can order a lid along with it. You can also make your own bucket from things around your house, and improvise some sort of lid to keep out the rain, snow, or inevitable bugs. We’ve seen milk jugs, five gallon buckets, sand pails, two-liter soda bottles, and more hanging off maples.

Hanging the bucket

Once you have collected a decent amount of sap, it’s time to boil it down into syrup! Sap is around 98% water, cooking it is intended to evaporate the water and concentrate the sugar. Forty parts of sap will boil down to one part of syrup – so be prepared to boil a lot. As your sap gets close to being syrup you will notice a sweeter smelling steam and a darker color in your boiling pot. Seven degrees above the boiling point of water (for most of us 219 degrees Fahrenheit) means your sap has officially become syrup, but really, if it looks like syrup, smells like syrup, and tastes like syrup, you’ve made maple syrup.

Cooking the sap

Now you can eat your very own maple syrup from your own maple tree, a delight that doesn’t come easily, but one we think is well worth the effort. Maple sugaring season is over when the sap stops dripping for a few days, looks a little off-color or has a slight off-taste, or when the buds start to open. You can pull your spout out of its hole (which will heal by itself) and give your maple tree a big, sappy hug.

Happy tapping!

Maple syrup!

Over Head/Under Foot – Down by the Bay

The video from our third week of camp this past summer.

Acorn Flour

Local wild forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what’s wild and edible in and around our area.

So, what does a forager do at this time of year? Well, even though there are still a few edible species to be harvested, much of my energies have been concentrated on making flour and baking. My main ingredient is the acorn. During October and November I was out and about gathering bagfuls of these abundant wild nuts.

acorn flour

At that time they are rather hard to open as the shells clung to the nut meat. However, after a few weeks of drying, they open more easily. Once I have a nice pile of shelled acorns, the next task is to remove the tannins that make them taste so bitter. The easiest way to do this is by boiling the chopped nuts in several changes of water until they become more palatable. At this point I put them on trays in the oven and dehydrate them. The final stage is to grind them to a powder. I’ve found that a coffee grinder does the trick pretty well.

acorn pastries with barberry butter

This year, I decided to experiment with baking. I used my acorn flour to make empanadas, fruit and nut cookies, date nut bread and an apple pie for Thanksgiving. They were all a big success. So much so, in fact, that I’ve made several batches of cookies since.  A nice thing about acorn flour is that it contains no gluten, so my cookies are ideal for anyone with celiac disease or a gluten allergy.

I had also gathered a lot of black walnuts and shagbark hickory nuts, which I  used in the cookies and acorn bread, so not only were they delicious but really nutritious.

fruit and nut acorn cookies

Paul Tappenden is the Rockland Forager. He leads identification walks once a month in our area. See regularly updated blogs, videos, events, and what he and other foragers, herbalists, and naturalists are up to at www.suburbanforagers.com.

Ice Art

Fun Ice Art to make when it’s cold outside:

Take a round metal pie pan outdoors and fill it with water. Add leaves, seeds, twigs, ‘pretty’ litter, small stones. Get a piece of twine or strong string, make a loop out of it by holding the two ends together. Add this loop of string so that the ends of the string are in the water but the actual loop stays dry, hanging off the side of the pan.

Leave overnight. The next morning bring the by-now frozen pie pan inside and run some warm water onto the bottom. Out from the pan should slide your ice art! You can use the loop to hang it onto a branch where you can watch the sun shine through it.

Taking Care Week 2013 – The Video

Our first video from this past summer!

Maple Sugaring at Camp

Join us as we tap our maple trees and get sappy. On Saturday, March 1st, from 11 am-12:30 pm we’ll learn all about making maple syrup: tree identification, the tools we use, tapping for and then tasting sap, boiling it over an outdoor fire, and then finally tasting the golden herald of springtime – maple syrup. This event is free, fun, indoors and outdoors, and for children and adults alike. After maple sugaring you can stick around to learn more about camp at our open house, from 1-4pm.

The first drops