Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Making Maple Syrup or just a big sap for ice cream...

  Sunday was Maine Maple Sugar Sunday. It’s a day when many maple syrup making farms are open to the public. I stopped by two of them to check out how much free ice cream doused with Maple syrup I could get maple syrup is made.

The first place I stopped  was a small wooden shack stuck in the middle of a field. Being Maine in March, in order to get from my car (parked on the side of a country road at at 45 degree angle, 2 wheels on the tar and 2 wheels in the nonexistent shoulder, tilted precariously toward a madly running stream) I had to walk down a tractor worn farm path about 50 yards through, guess what, mud.

  Not only was there mud, but huge puddles of water, resultant of the melting snow. It was probably in the 40’s -- heatwave weather.

  This particular farm decided they would accomodate their visitors, if need be, using a golf cart. As I was arriving, the golf card was cascading down the mud road toward the tar road I was on, with an elderly lady hanging on for dear life. Hanging on for dear life because the teenager driving it, not old enough yet for a real drivers license, thought to himself, 'YEE HA' and tried to break the Guiness Book of World Records speed record for driving across yards of mud.

  Not being elderly, I walked to the sugar shack.

  Lazy smoke was drifting up into the partly cloudy blue sky and the rather sickly smell of something sugary wafted through the air.

  The mud was so bad at my destination that planks of wood were placed on the ground between the set up card tables selling hot dogs, to the shack. The planks barely wide enough for one foot, causing the pedestrian to use a trapeze artist’s type of walk, lest they lose their balance and end up in the muck..

  Inside the warm shack were about 5 or 6 other folks checking out the maple syrup production in progress.

You know how this is done?

  First you have to find a tree that has the correct sap used in maple syrup. I would guess that would be a maple tree. Then someone pounds some sort of spike into the side of the poor tree and hangs a bucket off of it. The spike is designed to drain the life giving sap out of the unsuspecting tree and into the metal bucket.

  Eventually the bucket gets filled and the sticky liquid gets dumped into something that would allow the sap to be boiled.  Like this thing.

Close-up of syrup evaporating.

  After constant boiling for about 4 million hours, 30 to 40 gallons of watery sap turns into 1 gallon of syrup. It has to be watched like a hawk near the end because it could rapidly burn and ruin the day of the maple syrup entrepeneur. 

  Boiling it over a wood fire imparts a little bit of a smokey flavor, I’m told, which enhances the flavor, I’m also told.

  The second place I stopped in had millions of people there. Cars were lined up both sides of the road for what seemed like miles. They had shacks with hamburgers and hot dogs, shacks with free ice cream with maple syrup on top, the boiling shack, souvenir shack and a big barn with animals in it. The lines were very long for everything, especially the free ice cream.

I didn’t stand in line for this free ice cream. It was too much for even me. 
Besides coffee ice cream, maple walnut is my favorite flavor. Who knows what tree that comes from.