Saturday, March 28, 2020

Never a dull moment when making Maple Syrup

So if you have been following the process you know what this is a picture of. BUT,  did you know the best conditions for sap "flow" are cold nights and warm days. Now can you imagine the problem/s this can cause to a smooth "flowing" maple syrup making process? Maybe not, so we should pause for a moment and think about this over a pancake covered in syrup and have one of those memory making moments. Hey, If your are home schooling there is something at the end of this post for students to work on.

This Syrup Making Memory (good title for a book some day) goes like this.

5:30 am wanted to get an early start cooking. With a full 20 gallons of sap in the supply can I fired up the burner and went back into the house to have my morning coffee and read the paper. I knew I had at least three hours of boiling time with 20 gallons of sap in the supply can. Plenty of time for a good breakfast of French toast covered with real maple syrup. Still with several years of sapping experience under my belt I thought it best to just check in on the boiler and see how things were going. I mean after all what could go wrong? I had plenty of sap in the supply can?

Yeks! I'll tell you what could go wrong. The cold (freezing) night froze the sap in that little black hose connecting the sap supply can to the stock tank float that controls the level of sap in the cooker. So with the supply sap froze off the boiling in the cooker kept going while I enjoyed my coffee, newspaper and breakfast. With the liquid level boiling and going lower and lower until the edges of the boiler became "dry" and the sugar started to burn (ugly black stuff). The burning is avoided in in the finishing process by constant stirring of the syrup to keep the edges wet. This could wreck everything! Years ago I had a 2 foot by 4 foot pan I made for boiling light on fire while I was fixing shoes in my shed just 20 feet away!

Lucky this time I caught it just in time. I would drain the partially finished syrup and then scrub out the boiler, this would require a power tool. With the boiler cleaned I could return the syrup to the boiler, thaw out the feed hose and continue the boiling process. Remember the pictures of the red liquid in the last post? This is what 2 gallons looks like in the boiler, that means 80 gallons of sap and 16 hours of boiling. Whew, close one.

The good news out of this is that the freezing night caused the water in the sap collection bags to freeze making the sugar content in the remaining liquid sap more concentrated. This is a very good thing. Normally it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallons of syrup. With the more concentrated sugar in the sap it takes fewer gallons and less boiling time. In the milk can you can see the slush remaining. This is just frozen water from the sap and is dumped out. Note: Fellow teacher Jim Benson was with me fixing shoes the night the pan caught on fire and he got the idea to fill 5 gallon buckets with sap, put them in his chest freezer over night. The water part of the sap would freeze around the edges of the bucket. Jim would then pour off the remaining liquid into his Turkey Fryer and make his own syrup in his driveway.


See the little brown thing in the center of the ring? Such a small thing, right?
As a retired teacher I know that if you do not learn from your mistakes you will be forced to repeat them. So I made it the practice to set my timer whenever I was cooking sap and check in on the boiling sap every hour on the hour.

Well later in the day this small piece of leaf got into the sap supply can and made it through the little black feed hose to the stock tank float where it blocked the flow of sap to the boiler. Through out the day I diligently made my rounds ever hour on the hour to check the boiling process. That darn leaf must have plugged the flow just after I made a check because on my next round I could see (actually smell) the liquid level in the boiler was getting dangerously low! WHEW

Now with the weather getting warmer the ants and flies want to get in on the process. The blue bags used for collecting are open on the ends and the ants love the sweet sap. So they now need to be filtered out in the collection and transfer process along the way before boiling.

This is the Brix Hydrometer (sorry for the lousy picture) that I use to measure the density if the sugar content in the finished Maple Syrup. The standard for maple syrup sugar content by volume is 66%. There are two red lines on the hydrometer. If you look close you can see them just above and below the 35 (the numbers start at 40 then up to 35 then 30 and finally 25 at the top. Written on the scale inside the glass is "Baume for Maple Syrup, Tp. 60 deg. F") The bottom red line is for Cold Test 60 deg. F and the top red line is for Hot Test 211 deg. F.


What  is the Brix scale talking about?
How does a Hydrometer work?
What are the parts of this Hydrometer?
Why the two different red (hot and cold) rings?
How does the 66% "standard" relate to the 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of Maple Syrup?
Is there and Maple Syrup Makers Association?
Where can you get supplies if you wanted to make your own Maple Syrup?
How much could it cost to make a little or a lot of Maple Syrup?

I can tell you that my system can boil down 14 cm of liquid sap from a 20 gallon garbage can every 60 minutes.

Can you figure out how many gallons that is?
Can you find out the diameter of a standard 20 gallon garbage can is?

 And finally this is what it is all about for me. Boiling sap in the cooker and a roaring fire at night. So far this year have made 7 gallons of syrup and gave samples to all my neighbors that wonder, what the blue bags are for. How many gallons does it take? What do you do to make it? How long does it run? And best of all what does it taste like? And now that you have read the story, why would you do it?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Maple Syrup. The finishing process

Ok So if you read yesterdays post you now know HOW to collect and boil the maple sap. Today we "FINISH" as the sappers say.

Note: I might also say this could be a good math lesson for students working from home now that school is closed. See the ending.

So after a full 8 hours of boiling yesterday this morning it is time to "finish off". As you can see this requires some changes in the set up. First the cover on the boiler has been removed. This allows you to see and freely stir the boiling sap a lot. And dip in to take hydrometer readings. By the way, after some experimenting I found that keeping the main cover on and leaving only a small 6" diameter hole open for steam to escape increased the boil off rate. I also started a nice warming fire so the sapper (me) can take the chill off and warm hands. This will also be a nice touch at night if I boil late into the evening. Maybe a little wine to go with the steam. Finishing at night though is a very bad idea as much light is needed to keep an eye on the sap and keep it from foaming and burning.

OK now this is key. The dipper has been filled with concentrated liquid from the boiler (lower left). The Brix hydrometer has been placed in the hot liquid and is floating, showing the red line, indicating the proper concentration of sugar at this temperature. This is the only way to go and get good consistent syrup, batch to batch.

No time to waste now.  It took 1.5 hours and some constant stirring to finish off the boil and reduce the sap to this concentration. The heat has been shut off and a canner/cooker pot with a linen cloth clothes pinned to strain the product thru. There will be some lime that has boiled out of the sap and you do not want that in your syrup. Some syrup makers use a felt sake filter if you can believe it. Imagine cleaning that out every time.

While the finished syrup is hot it should be poured off into quart fruit jars. If you put the lids and rings on as it cools they will seal and they can be stored or given away to friends and family.

This is what it is all about. When I was a kid my old neighbor, Kenny Pergande, on special Saturday mornings, used to treat me to his egg pancakes. Kenny and June didn't have any kids so I lucked out. He made them in his seasoned cast iron frying pan. They filled the whole pan and were only 1/8" thick. Nothing like what my Mom made. Then he would bring out the Maple Syrup and I would pour it on and then roll the pancake up like a fruit roll-up

Cutting off pieces and enjoying every bite. Brought back a lot of memories. One time Kenny had me and my buddies catch bullfrogs for him  (50 cents a piece) and he fried up the legs! But that is for another time.

Now, about that math lesson...

A lot of people used to ask me questions about the process.
How much sap does it take to make a gallon of Maple Syrup? Answer - 40 gallons of sap
What is in the Log Cabin syrup you buy in the store? Answer - 98% corn syrup and maybe 2% real Maple Syrup!
Can you make syrup from other trees? Answer - Only the Sugar Maple (hard or soft type) has the necessay amount of sugar in it's sap to make it worth while and the right flavor. All trees have a "sap run" in the spring, but I just cannot imagine the taste of syrup from a Walnut tree.
How much LP gas does it take and what does it cost to make a gallon of syrup? The simple Answer is, a lot! Now here's where the math comes in.

Here are the facts:

What is called a 100 (123 actual) gallon LP tank (used empty tank costs $200) when filled can hold 100 gallons of liquidfied petroleum  (LP). The LP is under pressure and needs some space in the tank to become a gas and pass through the regulator. In the picture above you can see the tank shut off valve, the regulator, fill and pressure relief valves and tank volume gauge. When "full" the tank gauge will indicate 80%. I can tell you that 90 gallons of LP was pumped into the tank to fill it (must have been 10 gallons in the tank to start with). 90 gallons of LP cost me $126.

To boil (for 8 hours) 50 gallons of sap and then boil for another 1.5 hours to "finish off" my first batch
I got 5 quarts of 100% pure Maple Syrup. The volume gauge on the LP tank went from 80% down to 70%.

1. What does a gallon of LP cost?
2. About how many gallons of LP was burned going from 80% to 70% in the tank
3. Roughly what does it cost per hour to run the cooker?
4. What did the LP cost to make 5 quarts of syrup?
5. About how many hours of cooking can I get per 100 gallons of LP?
6. Bonus - How many gallons of syrup can you make from on 100 gallons of LP?

1. 126 / 90 = $1.40 per gallon
2. 80/90 is to 100/ X =  112.5 at 100% so each 10% of gauge reading = 11.25 gallons of LP
3. 11.25 gal. LP  / 9.5 Hrs. = 1.18 gal LP x $1.40 = $1.65 per hour for LP
4. $1.65 per hr. x 9.5 hrs. = $15.75 LP cost to make 5 quarts
5. If it took 9.5 hours to go down from 80% to 70% then I would say that 8 x 9.5 hrs = 76 hours
6. Bonus - I would say one "batch" took 9.5 hours of cooking and made 5 quarts. Looks like at that rate of LP burning I could do that 8 times on 100 gallons of LP. So, 8 batches of 5 quarts = 40 quarts / 4 quarts to a gallon and I should be able to make 10 GALLONS of Pure Maple Syrup. That's going to cover a lot of pancakes!

Next up... Calculating the rate of evaporation out of the "Feed Can" to the cooker per centimeter of drop on the meter stick gauge?

What's this a picture of and why is it important?

Well this is what 1 gallon of liquid looks like in the bottom of the cooker. I used red food coloring to get this to show up.

And here is what 2 gallons of liquid looks like in the bottom of the boiler.

Go to go collect sap now. More later...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Plenty of time to work on the cabin now.

So with all the cancelations (schools, Odyssey of the Mind, bars and restaurants etc. can't even get coffee at the Coop) there is plenty of time to get back to the cabin project. Friend Charlie Knox came to lend a hand. and see what it was all about.

With the window frames in place the logs for these walls will be shorter pieces. But, with a very  limited log supply I needed to think and plan carefully for the full length logs that will be needed to finish at least two rounds above the windows and door frame to tie the walls together. So after finding and tagging the 8 full length logs for the top two rounds the rest of the log supply was fare game.

The combination of lengths needed was posted on white foam core on each wall section -

2 - 5 foot pieces for north door side wall
1- 4 foot piece and one 6' - 2" piece for the opposite south wall with large window

1 - 13' - 3" piece for the west wall with no window
2 - 5' - 4" pieces for the east wall with the small window

These pieces were located, cut and tagged with their lengths to avoid any confusion in cutting and putting up the next three rounds to "reach" the top of the door and window frames.

As the walls go upward "reaching" takes on an important meaning and scaffolding would be needed to get the job done. I decided to use scrap pallets form the local lumber yard for this. I was able to screw the pallet to the cabin as shown in the picture above. Doing this allowed me to keep the joint corners open so measuring and plumbing could still be done. Very slick!

So here you can see the full setup. Pallets support the movable 2x6 planks that will provide the working surface for the next 4 rounds to bring the walls up to the top of the door and windows. Then I will have to reassess the situations. Ramps will be used to get the logs up and on to the walls. More pictures of that process to come.

With the Covid-19 restrictions getting tighter (no gatherings larger than 10 people) and businesses limiting access I got the urge to set up the Maple Syrup factory so I will add that to the blog post.

The last time I made Maple Syrup was 2011.

Step -1. Drill and tap the Maple trees. I put out 25 bags. The sap run is in full swing as the clear bag shows the amount of sap that ran in just 30 minutes. Now I would go home and set up the factory as you will see along the way. Note: Small trees get 1 bag, medium trees 2 and the largest trees at the end of this picture got 3 bags.

The next morning the bags were emptied (each bag can hold 4 gallons of sap when full). First the bag is pulled off the spigot in the tree (1/2" diameter holes are drilled 2 - 3 inches deep) and then emptied into a 5 gallon bucket. When two buckets are full they are dumped into 10 gallon milk cans in the back of my MiEV. Full milk cans are driven back to the Factory where a submersable fountain pump is used to fill 5 gallon bucket again for transfer to a 20 gallon garbage can (we'll call this the "feeding can").

Now the 5 gallon buckets are dumped into the "feeding can" on the left. It is equipped with a site tube
on a meter stick so the level of the sap in the can is shown. The feeding can is also raised up so that gravity will do the work from now on. The black hose connects the feeding can to a stock tank float that is connected to the boiler. This meters the sap in so as to keep the level of liquid in the boiler about 1" deep and a full boil going all the time. In the old days I had to keep watch over this and add sap when the level got low. I have some memorable disaster stories to tell about what happened when the level got to low!

The stainless steal boiler was some sort of small milking operation transfer tank. I got it from Clyde White in the 70's and do not remember the exact usage it was for but makes a dandy sap cooker! The burner is a 6 gun unit that sits below the cooker and I closed in the area with sheetmetal. The burner is fed by propane. This year I learned that the 100 pound LP tanks are no longer used so I had to go with a 100 gallon unit. Lasts longer and less trouble exchanging tanks. Plus I will need a tank this size to run the heater I will be putting in my workshop that I will be building this summer. More to blog about.

And how much will all this fun cost? What are the numbers? Well I can tell you that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of Maple Syrup. To fill the 100 gallon tank to 80% it cost $127. Will know after a few batches what the real costs to make a gallon of 100% pure Maple Syrup is. But the cost of having this kind of fun is as they say Priceless!