Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sugar Shack Time

The sugar shack..
All the local sugar shacks are busy creating maple syrup - days are warm and nights are cold and the sap is flowing. Sugaring time is the best time to go for breakfast, eat and buy fresh syrup, and tour the sugar house to watch the interesting process that, with the exception of a few modern adjustments, hasn't changed much over the years.

I happened to read about a new place to visit on one of the Blogs I Learn From...What I Made Yesterday. One of the posts mentioned a place called Ioka Valley Farm, which is about 25 minutes away (we later learned that Ioka is an Indian word for "beautiful"). We'd heard of the farm but had somehow never been to visit. So, off we went for Sunday brunch. We also thought it might be a great opportunity for one of our beloved "photo expeditions."
Our friendly old instructor, who kept the wooden tap in his pocket.
When we drove in, the farm parking lot was full of cars from MA, CT, and NY. We strolled past the cows being gawked at by the "city kids" on our way to the Calf-A, where we put our name on the waiting list for breakfast - about an hour's wait. Then we headed over to the sugar house, which was also pretty packed.

Inside, the sugarmakers were busy keeping a watchful eye on the syrup and answering questions about what they were doing. It was cozy warm, the air was full of the damp and slightly sweet scent of the bubbling syrup, and enormous clouds of steam were rising up to the vent in the roof.

A large old tree ornamented the interior, it's many branches reaching up to the roof. The floor was gravel. And, there was a really cool bench featuring small stumps of different types of trees. Our task, should we choose to accept it, was to put a tree stump on its corresponding Loading the woodstove to maintain the constant high We only got three right - cherry, birch and maple.

We then observed the sugaring process:

  1. Plastic lines are now strung on the trees to collect the sap, and left there year-round, and the taps are also plastic. In olden times, the taps were wood, and the sap was collected in individual buckets which had to be repeatedly emptied. One of the old sugarmakers showed me the wooden tap he keeps close in his coat pocket - he made it when he was young from a piece of punky wood. A heated coathanger was pushed through the center and out the other end to make the hole for the sap. It has the polished patina of much use and much love.
  2. Part of a sugarmaker's year-round job is maintaining the lines, which animals and nature tend to upset. They keep logs of when lines were put up, and have a routine maintenance schedule to keep them new. We were shown a length of pipe with some fairly impressive bear teeth marks. Hands also leave sweat on the piping, which turnPouring off some syrup to test the temperature.s to salt, which attracts smaller critters, so sugarmakers now wear gloves when handling the piping.
  3. The sap from the lines feeds into the holding tank and a reverse osmosis (?) process is used to remove much of the water before the sap is boiled.
  4. Then, the sap is poured into the large vat over the "Maple Pro Erable" woodstove. It roils and boils ferociously - when wood is added to the stove, it makes the syrup bubble even more and a de-foamer is added to maintain control over it. The sugarmakers prefer to do their work at night when the barometric pressure stays more constant - this affects how long it takes the sap to turn into syrup.
  5. A large thermometer on the side of the tank tells how hot the syrup is. When it looks like it's at the right temp, a cylinder of fluid is drawn off. If it's ready, a long portable thermometer (think very large candy thermometer) will float at the right level between 2 red marks.
  6. It's now time to remove any accumulated minerals, strain it, and determine the grade. The grade is determined by a combination of color and flavor, and is still a human-based decision-making process. Paler grades of sugar used to be in high demand, as maEnjoying a fabulous breakfast in the Calf-A.ple sugar and syrup were used as the main sweetener in homes and a strong maple flavor wasn't desirable. Now, however, a maple flavor in the sugar is considered a good thing, so the darker grades are more popular. Only mother nature controls what grade the syrup will be; it's kind of like having a baby - you just wait to find out what you're going to get.
  7. When ready, the syrup is poured into large barrels, and from there into correct containers.

After watching and listening for a while, we headed over to the homey Calf-A. The tablecloths and curtains are in a cow pattern, and the table containers are quaint baskets and painted tin cups. When we got to our seats we ordered mini corn muffins with maple butter, homemade (and delicious) applesauce, and of course pancakes and syrup, plus bacon and sausage. Everything was wonderful and we had such a terrific Berkshire morning. We bought a jug of syrup on our way out - a little pricey but we want to support a local farm. Then, a quick look at the animals, the hay, and the old farm implements, and we headed home. Nice day.


Kelly said...

Evil temptress! I am now salivating for pancakes and maple syrup!
Bacon and sausage on the side are a bit that the done thing in your part of the world?

LoveANewIdea said...

Oh yes, it wouldn't be breakfast without bacon or sausage! I usually don't have both, but my daughter didn't want hers so I got it. We don't usually have the meat except for weekends, as it's fatty and a bit extravagant, but it's a terrific treat. A "standard" U.S. breakfast in most restaurants is:
2 eggs cooked to your liking; bacon, sausage (links or patties) or ham; 2 slices of toast; homefries; and coffee or tea.

Kelly said...

Oh I see bacon & sausages on the same plate as pancakes made my stomach do a few flips, but it seems you don't normally have them together!
What's your standard breakfast at home?

LoveANewIdea said...

Weekdsays: oatmeal
Weekends: scrambled eggs or an omelet, with bacon and toast.
What about you Aussies???

Kelly said...

Oatmeal...scrambled eggs...omelets...hungry again!
In our household it's always cereal. Favourites with the kids are chocolate-based cereals, though they don't get them very often, only as a treat. They usually have Weetbix or cornflakes.
I myself love Special K with banana and vanilla yoghurt. Special K is a bran flakes type cereal. And yes, I only love it because it really means, "Special Kelly." Ha!

Mo said...

Pancakes fresh fruit with my maple syrup please.

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

I got hungry just looking at the pics, let alone reading the post!

We must be sykickally connected or something... Last night I made blueberry pancakes topped with butter, fresh whipped cream and real maple syrup (expensive down here) with sides of sausage.

Did you get my email with the link to your koala screensaver?

LoveANewIdea said...

Pancakes and sausage are the best comfort food! Love how the blueberries get all warm and squishy.

Also, am a bit behind on checking my email accounts; I checked them at work today and saw the koala one from you...heading to pick up the file now...thank you for all of your work on this and kindness in sharing!

LoveANewIdea said...

Have been loving the daily photos...I get to travel vicariously through your blog!

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Hmmmmm, a "traditional" Aussie brekkie... Hang on, lemme put on the ole thinking cap.

Ok, I'm back. Toast and vegemite is a pretty standard one. Chuck some kinda marmalade on it too. Weet-Bix are fairly popular, but you gotta load them up with sugar otherwise it's like eating... Ummmmm, hmmmmmm... Imagine sawdust packed in a rectangular block. Yeah! That's what Weet-Bix taste like (sorry Kelly, but that's what they taste like to me, everyone's different)

Oh yeah: CRUMPETS! With any topping on them you can imagine --I prefer mine with just butter.

Eggs, fried or scrambled or omletted.

And bacon; lots of bacon. And snags (or bangers if you prefer that term).

Scones are popular too.

Recently (as in the last 30 years or so) fast food brekkie has been a bit americanised, but with a bit of an aussie flair.

Good luck finding bagels down here, I have to make my own. Ditto with big ole belgian style waffles.

Gruel is popular --oh, I mean oatmeal-- for some reason (sorry again Kelly, but I grew up with the stuff back in Alaska in a trailer court when that's all we could afford).

I think the most popular is bacon, eggs, and snags cooked outside on the hotplate grill. Mmmmmmmmm... drool... And toast with butter and vegemite.

And tea. Lots and lots of tea.

My brekkie is usually last nights leftovers and coffee. Very non-aussie :)

LoveANewIdea said...

Hmmm...bangers, snags, and vegemite...mighty tempting! Actually, I saw vegemite in one of our local Co-op Markets after reading about it on a blog; I almost bought it, but was afraid I'd only eat one spoonful of it, so have yet to taste it. Bangers I think are sausage? But, no clue on the snags...

(PS-I'm loving all the foodie talk in these comments!)

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Snags and bangers are both terms for an aussie sausage. Very tasty!

Vegemite: be careful the first time you have it. It is NOT to be slathered on in great heaping amounts like peanut butter. If you do that, you will hate it. It is "concentrated yeast extract" and tastes a lot like creamy beef bullion. The first time you try it, take a piece of toast, spread some butter on it, and spread a about the same amount of vegemite on it. It's also very good for flavouring gravies and soups. It never goes bad and you don't have to refrigerate it either.

LoveANewIdea said...

Aha - learned another new term! Thanks for the tip on the vegemite. I might get a small container; if we don't like the taste, I can always use it to flavor things I'm cooking

PS Thanks for becoming an official blog follower!!


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