Kelvin & I have been enjoying our time in the woods tapping trees this week. The ground is bare, which makes tree tapping ever so much easier. Usually, half the battle is trudging through two feet of snow with the drill, hammer, roll of tubing and a stack of buckets. This year, we listened to the sound of leaves crackling underfoot, and our dog Trixie sniff, sniffing while circling a hollow tree, which we discovered was a den tree for two big, sleepy-eyed raccoon.
The best sound of the day though, was the sound of the sap drip, dripping into the pail. With the midday sunshine on the tree tops, the sap flowed from the roots, up the trunk, and into the branches, while a small portion dripped from our spout. Every year, I make it tradition to sample the fresh sap, so I kneel beside the tree, and let a few drops fall on my tongue, savoring the faint sweetness and pugnent maple taste that comes from the maple wood. Ahhh, spring is coming!
We have about 500 taps in so far. We have not collected sap yet, but our buckets are about half full, so we'll collect some today and boil for awhile tonight. The season is beginning!
Hemlock Ridge Farm is located in the hills of Upstate New York’s Finger Lakes Region, where cold winter nights give way to sunny days in early spring, causing the sap in the maple tree roots to flow upward to the branches. This fluctuation occurs several times in late winter, producing a “run” of sap for a few days at a time. The sap ceases to run when the temperature remains warm, and the sap stays in the branches and is utilized as energy for the new leaves.Our syrup is made with great attention to quality; the maple sap is collected from the buckets by hand, and taken to the sugarhouse by our horses, Prince and Red. There the sap is cooked down by our wood-fired evaporator and bottled hot to maintain quality.
Early in the maple season, the sap is typically light in color and flavor, intensifying as the season progresses. The lightest syrup is Grade A Fancy. The slightly darker and more flavorful syrups are Grade A Medium and Grade A Dark. These are commonly used as table stock for pancakes, waffles, ice cream, etc, while Grade A Fancy is reserved for candy-making and display bottles. Grade B is used as a cooking syrup and is highly prized for its robust flavor.
We are looking forward to the 2012 syrup season, wondering how the warm weather we've had this winter will affect the quality and quanity of the syrup. Kelvin has most of the wood cut to fire the evaporator, and is currently working on cleaning and rearranging the sugar house for a sucessful year.