Making Maple Syrup – The Sugar House
Today, all four of us are in the sugar house. I am on my computer, taking breaks to stoke the fire and watch the syrup coming off. Dana is a jack of all trades and is filtering the syrup, canning the finished product and labeling bottles. Both of our daughters, who are off from school today, are labeling bottles and jars. The ultimate family business day. And Dana is down right giddy. A day with all of us working in the sugar house is what he has always dreamed of. He has been at this a long time, as this picture shows. We have been consulting with his mom, and we are putting him at about 5 in this pictures. Happy then. Happy now. The process of making maple syrup hasn’t changed too much over the years. A lot of how we make maple syrup is the same as it has been for generations, but now we have some technology that helps the process without taking away from the crafted aspect of making maple syrup. I already shared about tapping the trees and the pump house. Today, I am sharing about the sugar house and how we actually make maple syrup. The main piece of equipment is called an evaporator because its job is to evaporate the water from the sap. However, before it gets here, we have a new fancy piece of equipment. This is the reverse osmosis machine, or RO. Its’ job is to take out a whole bunch of water before it even goes to the evaporator to be boiled. When the sap comes out of the tree it is clear, like water. At that point, the sugar content is about 1.5%. By the time it comes out of the RO it is at about 10% sugar. This means less fuel to burn and less time boiling in the evaporator. And speaking of fuel, currently our fuel is wood. Dana attached some pallet forks to the front of the tractor and brings in the wood one pallet at a time. He built two of the holders with sides to hold the wood in. Isn’t he cute in the snow? Then he drops them through the barn doors on to a platform that is on wheels. Then we are able to roll it right up to the fire door or out of the way as needed. I think it is a pretty clever system. He is cute and smart – a pretty good package! Once the condensed sap is pumped to a tank overhead, it is gravity fed down to the evaporator. The sap then runs through a series of channels. First it is heated from the steam being capture by the hood and then makes its way through a continuous system of channels. All the way, the water is being boiled off and sent out the steam hoods that go out of the roof. It continues to evaporate until it reaches an ideal temperature and it is syrup. By the time it makes it way through to the end, there is a gauge run by a thermometer. Once it hits the correct temperature, the valve automatically opens up and pulls off the the syrup. This is a new piece of equipment and we love it. We used to the automatic pull-off, as in stare at the temperature gauge at all times and open the valve as needed. We then run it through a filter press to take out any sediment and it is ready to be canned. What is the ideal temperature? Technically, sap becomes syrup at 7 degrees above the boiling point of water, which is typically 219 degrees. However, weather sometimes impacts that and can fluctuate throughout the day. Dana uses a hydrometer that measures the density of the syrup to help determine if we need to adjust the take-off temperature up or down. Of course there are lots of other steps that involve cleaning, etc. About once a week, Dana does a full cleaning cycle of the evaporator. Daily, we hose everything down, rinse out and switch out the pans. We sweep up any debris from the wood and wipe down the surfaces. A lot of condensation drips down to the floors and onto the steam hood from the steam going out the roof, so several times a week we also wipe down the exterior of the evaporator with hot water. And then of course, there is the step of labeling the product so it is ready to ship or be sent to our retailers. That is where our girls step in and help. The one thing I wish I could share through the screen is how it smells in here. It really is heaven. We love when someone comes in when we are in the middle of a full boil and they are instantly taken in by the smell. What we love the most however is when you see their faces when they try REAL maple syrup for the first time. It never gets old! So, what do think? Do you have more questions that I haven't answered? Feel free to ask away and we will do our best to answer!