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Saturday, April 2, 2016

Roadtrip East: Maple Syrup Time!

Chances are likely that if you've poured a bit of maple syrup onto your pancakes or French toast -- and we're not talking Log Cabin or Mrs. Butterworth here, but artisan maple syrup -- you don't have a clue of how it's made. At least I didn't!

 

Then I met Bill.


Bill runs the Mill Brook Sugar House in Pittsfield, MA -- but Rick's brother Randy calls it the Sugar Shack and that works for me! After we bought some fabulous syrup in the morning, we returned later in the day to watch Bill work his magic!



Rick and I decided Bill maybe one of the smartest guys we've ever met -- and one of the most ambitious and hard working. It would be enough that he makes absolutely delicious maple syrup, but he also -- more or less singlehandedly -- taps his own trees, harvests the sap, and does the packaging.



He also built the "Sugar Shack." Well, at least half of it! He expanded the old building by about a third or so, repairs his own equipment, built the doors, installed the windows... the guy is amazing!


He was also generous with his time as he let us watch the process and explained some of the mechanics of making the syrup and determining its grade and color.


Did you know there are several colors of syrup, ranging from golden to dark. And the dark (or Grade B, if you find a grade) is what you want for cooking -- and for the richest flavor!


Bill has trees all around Pittsfield but those closest to his property have "tubes" or hoses that run down the hill, delivering the sap in the easiest way possible. Otherwise, he takes a huge bin with him to the trees! Bill, I might add, is very strong!

            

I can't begin to tell you the whole process, but when we walked in this machine was filled with boiling sap -- think seriously hot sugar! -- and it smelled fabulous. When it reaches a certain temperature (219 degrees, which he can now monitor with a digital thermometer, and not have to check the way he used to when he was heating it up on a wood fire), it runs out into a bucket.



When the bucket is full, he puts a "shovel-like thing" under the streaming syrup, lifts the bucket away from the spigot, puts another in its place and dumps the "shovel" into the new bucket.


The full bucket is dumped into a big vat. I can't remember the next step but there are another one or two before it goes into the jugs you'll see at the market.


Of course, the care of maple syrup is important too. Once it is opened, don't keep it in the cupboard! Refrigerate, please!


We asked Bill about the unusually warm weather in the region. He said that usually the sap is still running now, but it has started to slow down with the weather warming up. I wish I'd asked him if that was going to cut production enough to change prices.


That won't matter much to us! We're loaded up for the year! And I'm just waiting for serious maple moments!


I'm imagining French toast made with Rick's challah bread on Easter with Bill's syrup. Yes, it was a terrific breakfast -- and a great memory!

26 comments:

Deb said...

There's nothing like REAL maple syrup.

Joanne Huffman said...

So much better than supermarket stuff!

Vivian Swift said...

Oh, to be in a maple syrup-cooking sugar shack -- I would have gotten a contact high just from the aroma. Syrup is one of those foods -- like lobster and mushrooms -- that make me wonder how on earth people figured out that this unappetizing stuff was edible. P.S. I don't eat lobster or mushrooms (I'm still pretty primitive with my food choices) but I love maple syrup on scrambled eggs.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I love that you got to learn how maple syrup is made and got to observe part of the process. There is really nothing like real maple syrup. I don't think I could go back to the fakey tasting super market stuff. Since I'm GF I don't eat french toast or pancakes much so I usually buy the dark maple syrup since I use it for things like granola and salad dressings. I would love to buy some directly from the source like you guys did, though!!

Joyful said...

Amazing how you make maple syrup isn't it? I had the pleasure of learning about the process many years ago when I lived in Ottawa and took a "touristy" trip to a place where they make the syrup. After that I had a much better appreciation for it all.

Marilyn Miller said...

I am salivating! This syrup sounds soooo delicious. I can just imagine how wonderful your Easter breakfast was. Thanks for sharing this adventure with us. Fascinating!

gigihawaii said...

I get my maple syrup from Costco. Lol.

Sarah said...

You shared a great post. Thank you! We love maple syrup here, and yes, we buy the good stuff. French toast with maple syrup in the batter was on our Easter brunch menu. Of course, it was served with more maple syrup on the side. Delicious!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

One of my internet friends, Erika, lives right down the road from people who make their own maple syrup. I'm going to send her this post. She lives in New Hampshire and she can compare how it's made in MA.

My friend Sally brought me a bottle of that beautiful maple leaf maple syrup while on a trip back east one year. I had NO idea maple syrup had so many changing colors and different uses. This was not just fun, but an informative post, too.

Thanks for allowing me to add you to my sidebar (already done) and Bleubeard and I would be honored to be on yours.

I need orange said...

We just bought some grade B at the food co-op this morning!

Yummy, but not nearly as cool as getting to see where it was made, and buy it from the maker himself!

Mary@mydogsmygardenandmary said...

What a great post, i never realized how it was made. Sounds like you got enough for french toast and cooking.

What a talented man and how nice of him to explain and sow you everything. Sounds like a great trip.

Have a wonderful week.
Mary

My name is Erika. said...

I was sent your way by Elizabeth at Bluebeard and Elizabeth blog. Interesting. I did a little post about maple syrup in New Hampshire back on Tuesday. Interesting to see another post on the same subect. Enjoyed reading about this sugar shack! :)

Barb said...

We used to have a house in VT, and I loved watching the sugaring operations. However, I have to admit I don't refrigerate ours. I think wih Bob and the Grands consuming it, it doesn't last long enough to mold! His equipment looks so clean. That is hard work!

Bella Rum said...

I alway say that the only problem with maple syrup is that once you taste it, you'll never be satisfied with any other kind of syrup. I always have in the fridge. It's so good.

We used to visit my sister in New Hampshire every year, and we always came home with plenty of maple syrup - some for us and some for gifts.

Guys (and gals) who have a knack for running a small business are among the most industrious people we have in this country. They are so devoted to their work and proud of it.

Interesting post, Jeanie. Makes me want pancakes. I do love pancakes with maple syrup.

shoreacres said...

I've been buying maple syrup from farms for years. Nothing beats the taste, that's for sure. Last winter, I bought some Michigan syrup, from a farm in Charlevoix that supplies American Spoon. It was interesting to note the difference in taste from the Vermont syrup I'd had. Both were excellent, but different.

I learned that lesson about refrigerating syrup the hard way. It doesn't take long for real maple syrup to grow a little fuzzy, especially in the Gulf coast heat. Luckily, there wasn't much left in the bottle, so I didn't lose much. I learned later that skimming and re-heating was all that was needed, but I don't think I'd have been comfortable with that, anyway.

Victoria Zigler said...

So jealous of you right now! We can't get the "real" stuff here... Just the closest the supermarket has. I hate that it's the case, but it especially bothers hubby, who has actually had the stuff straight from the tree. I only ever had "real" maple syrup once... Enough to know the stuff the supermarket calls the real thing so isn't. But, beggars can't be choosers, and since my choice is the bottle of maple syrup from the supermarket, or none at all, I think I'll take the stuff from the supermarket.

Mae Travels said...

Your description of the sugaring process is fascinating. I've read various descriptions, but never seen it.

Maple flavor is marvelous, whether in maple syrup, maple sugar, or maple candy (only the kind made from pure maple sugar, not the fake kind). Here in Ann Arbor, we have an artisan maple sugar farmer who sells at the farmers' market (or did the last time I checked) as well as the mass-market maple syrup from Costco, which is in fact also pure maple syrup from Canada, I think. I hate the fake kind like Log Cabin syrup.

I love how you inspired so many commeters to tell about their experiences and tastes.

best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Tammie Lee said...

such a wonderfully interesting stop.
i love maple syrup and enjoy it many ways, often in my coffee with homemade whipped almond milk.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Such glorious gifts from nature, and only in New England and Canada! WAIT....I think it also can come from up north here in Minnesota....but there's nothing like seeing it happen in Mass. LOVELY!!!!

Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Hi Jeanie,
First, thank you for visiting.. I am so happy you enjoyed Ed.. I would love to see a photo of your Heron if he comes back.

You know, sometimes we don't think about how things are made.. Very interesting, and looks so yummy!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh dearest Jeanie, THANK YOU for visiting my blog! We had such a great day and she found us another venue! I CAN'T WAIT!!!!!

Lynne said...

I think the fragrance oozed right into my iPad . . .
What a wonderful experience to see the process, learn from an expert
and it sounds like you have plenty of Real Maple Syrup for home . . .
Yum . . .

Daniela said...

I've always a jar of maple syrup at home, we're all fond of this wonderful gift onf the Nature, we think it to be a thing which to molly-coddle ourselves with !

Hope your week is off to a great star, my lovely, dearest Jeanie, I wish you blessed days to come

Dany

Tracy said...

There's nothing like the REAL thing!! Maple syrup is just fascinating... I've read a good bit about how it's produced, and it was just fun to see this! I can almost smell and taste it through the screen! Challah french toast with pure maple syrup... I might have to pick that for my Last Breakfast! ;) Thanks, as always, Jeanie, for taking us along! ((HUGS))

Roses, Lace and Brocante said...

What a great activity to be part of Jeanie!
He is an interesting man and it's good to see these old traditions continuing!
I'm imagining how the "real stuff" tastes!

Wandering Wren said...

Hey if you're loaded up on maple syrup for the whole year I'm coming to visit!! What a sweet visit that would be, we can share our road trip adventures! Looks a fascinating visit, I'm just running off to the pantry to remove the bottle of maple syrup into the fridge , that's of course if we have any left, it doesn't tend to last long around here :)
Wren x

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