Making Maple Syrup

Another year of maple syruping is behind me. The season was much shorter this year due to below normal temperatures in March – for tree sap to run, it requires daytime temperatures above 5 degrees celsius and nighttime temps below zero celsius (32F). It takes lots of liquid sap from maple trees to make maple syrup and the sap is frozen in the trees when temperatures are below freezing. Finally near the end of March, the outdoor temps started to rise above zero celsius in the daytime allowing the sap in the trees to unthaw. I tapped my maple trees in early April – you can read about it from a few years ago here – and started collecting maple sap in one gallon jugs.

Livi helping 2014

Livi helping 2013

Luckily I was still making fires inside in my wood cookstove because it was barely above freezing, so I could boil down the sap right there. Usually I get about 6 litres of sap every few days from my 3 tapped trees in the backyard – it looks just like water but it tastes a bit sweeter. I always drink a glass of the first sap that I collect as a ‘spring tonic’ as some native Canadians used to do . Six litres of sap fits in my largest stainless steel pot. I strain the maple sap through two coffee filters to get out the small bark chips and other organics .

straining sap

straining sap

It usually takes almost 2 days of simmering on top of the cookstove all day to boil down to syrup. From this whole 6 litre pot of sap, I get about a cup or so of pure maple syrup – that’s it! I don’t do anything fancy like check the temperature of the sap – I simply eyeball it to tell if it’s the consistency of thicker syrup.

2boilingdown
Once the sap has boiled down to maple syrup, I sterilize some small jam jars and their lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. As soon as I remove the jar from the boiling water, I pour the maple syrup into it. I dip a clean cloth into the boiling water and wipe off the rim of the jar before placing the hot lid fresh out of the water.

3jars

I end up with so few jars of finished maple syrup that I don’t get out my large canning pot to process it. I simply place the clean cloth in the bottom of a pot and put the 2 or 3 small sealed jars in the water and make sure that they stay covered with boiling water. I process them for 15 minutes after the water begins to boil again.

processing in boiling water

processing in boiling water

After removing the jars from the boiling water with my handy-dandy jar tongs, I let them sit on a cutting board to cool down. It’s a wonderful sound to hear that clear ‘pop’ when the lid seals itself.

Now the maple syrup is ready to be stored or eaten. In the past, I neglected the necessary part of the water bath process and ended up with moldy maple syrup even though I kept it in the fridge.

5finished

Homemade maple syrup from my own trees is incredibly delicious! I think it’s better than anyone else’s syrup. I had some right away on my French Toast for lunch.

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

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Sure Signs of Spring

Spring has arrived late this year but there are some sure signs of Spring.  The temperature started climbing above 0 degrees celsius last week and FINALLY the snow started to melt!  In a matter of a couple of days, most of the snow in the front and back yards has melted leaving puddles.  There is still a big drift down by the shed but it’s much smaller now.  I can even walk down to the river even though most of the ground isn’t frozen any longer but more like a sponge.  It’s rubber boots time!
In my excitement, I decided that it was time to change my winter-ravaged, torn and shredded Canadian flag down at the beach, now that I could get to it.  I happened to choose a very windy day but I got the job done and now my new flag stands as a sentry along the water…….. and I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

River
And the river started to break up!  Most years, the ice has already broken up and floated down river by now but this year it’s taken until now to begin.  I noticed first that the channel in the middle of the river had a small slit of glittering water – this is the first to melt with the flow of water.  Then the next day, their was a sliver of water along the edge of the riverbank which was open.  During the windy days, the whole ice floe completely moved away from our riverbank to near the channel leaving a substantial stretch of water.  Best of all, my ‘lake of shining waters’ is back!  This is the sparkly, glittering water reflecting the sunrise.  I love it.
The Canada Geese and other migratory birds started arriving back last week.  Thankfully the Robins can now find food since most of the snow has melted.  The Geese, Loons, and Seagulls can land in the water and even stand on the ice floe.  I’ve also seen my ‘friend’ the Great Blue Heron flying down along the water, Pterodactyl-looking.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

On my way back up the yard, I noticed the rhubarb starting to poke through the ground.  The daylillies too! The grass is even greening up under all those leaves I left on the ground.  This year, I’m beginning my ‘shoreline restoration project’ where I will start to let the river’s edge go back to it’s original state rather than cutting most of my grass right to the water’s edge.  It will be better for the environment, plants, and animals who live here too.

Another important yet unpleasant job is scooping the dog poop in the back yard.  My elderly dog Yukon died in mid-February but there was still a season of his poo under all the snow.  I almost got the whole job done while reminiscing about Yukon’s years here but I found tears in my eyes near the end.

The maple sap has been flowing from my tapped maple trees for nearly two weeks now.  It did slow down to a near stop when the weather turned very cold but it’s now flowing steadily.  I’ve been boiling the sap on my wood cookstove to make maple syrup – not much because it takes about 6 litres of sap to make about half a cup of pure maple syrup.  But since I’ve been making a fire anyway, there’s no harm in boiling the sap down on my cookstove.
One important sure sign of Spring is the sound of my sump pump.  It’s strange, but I certainly like hearing that on-and-off again humming noise because it means that the ground water around and under my house is being pumped away so I don’t flood.
What better way to welcome the warm spring winds than hanging laundry outside!  There’s nothing that soothes my visual soul more than the sight of laundry drying on my clothesline.  This week the temperatures are supposed to be above normal so all the comforters and blankets on the beds and floor mats will get washed and hung outside to dry.  Nature’s sweet, fresh smell lasts for days.

Sunning
Most days, our cat is sunning himself whenever he’s not ‘chasing’ squirrels at the windows from inside the house.  I find myself instinctively cleaning out closets these days.  I can’t understand why I’ve kept papers from 20+ years ago so some of them were recycled and others are in a burn pile.  Bookshelves are not immune either so any of my children who have left their books still on Mom’s shelves, let me know if you want any of them or they’re off to the book re-sellers.
As spring slowly gives way to the warmer temperatures near summer, another Canadian tradition begins: National Hockey League hockey play-offs.  There have been times when we’ve watched NHL play-offs on a TV outside on the deck while basking in temperatures in the 30C degrees.  Let the play-offs begin because this year my team is in the play-offs!  Go Sens Go!!

My Lake of Shining Waters

My Lake of Shining Waters

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

This time of year, there are a lot of chocolate treats going around. My children used to love hunting for chocolate goodies all over the house. It was especially funny when they’d discover an unfound treat months later in a puzzle or under a couch cushion or when they opened up the dining room table to add the leaves.
Rather than give candy to my family now, I make these special ‘cookies’ to eat. Like many of my deserts for special occassions, these macaroons are very nutritious……..sort of. They have something from every food group – 1. Fruit: coconut & cocoa; 2. Meat/Alternatives: milk & butter; 3. Carbs: oatmeal; 4. Fats/Oils/Sugar: butter & sugar. Well, it could be a meal in itself! It IS if I say so – my house, my rules. Okay, not quite.
I’d like to share the recipe that my sister Betty originally gave to me for Chocolate Coconut Macaroons  – makes about 3 dozen.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons Recipe
cooking macaroonsCombine in a large pot, mix well & bring to a boil:
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 cup Butter
4 heaping Tablespoons Cocoa
2 cups Sugar (ya I know, my bad)

Remove from heat and add:
1 teaspoon Vanilla
pinch of salt
Combine these two ahead of time and have them waiting in a bowl to add:
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cups rolled oats (uncooked oatmeal)

Mix well. Spoon quickly onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment or wax paper. Let sit until firm or cool.

Macaroon
Share.
Eat in moderation.
Enjoy.

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