Backyard Maple Syrup Making

15 Mar

I have so much to say so let me begin with the current task of the season – Maple syrup making. I have come to appreciate the fact that I live in one of the few areas of the world that can produce maple syrup. In order to do so, you need two main things – the right kind of tree and the right kind of weather.

Granted, this year’s maple syrup production shadows in comparison to last year, which was one of the best years on record for the maple syrup industry here in Connecticut. With the brutally cold temperatures this year, the sap simply wont flow.

Here is a quick explanation of how it works:
Throughout the winter, maple trees store their sap in the roots. As the weather begins to warm, the tree will send the sap up from the roots, through the trunk and out to the limbs to “feed” the tree so it can begin to bud and produce leaves. When a tree is tapped, we are taking a small portion of the tree’s food. This is why it is SO important to NOT put too many taps in one tree… we don’t want to take too much of the tree’s food. The best sap comes from a Sugar maple. The Black maple is a very close second for good syrup production and in third place is the Red maple. You can identify what type of maple you have by closely examining the leaves and the bark of the tree. The best type of weather for sap collection is when the day time temperature goes above freezing but the night-time temperature still dips below freezing. In Connecticut, that usually begins to happen around the end of January/beginning of February thru April.

sugar

Sugar Maple
 

black maple

Black Maple

red maple

Red Maple

Since this year was more of an experiment to make sure I knew exactly what I was doing, I only put one tap in one tree.

I bought a 5/16″ drill bit and used a hand drill to drill a 1.5″ hole into the side of the maple tree. I made sure the hole was clear of all wood shavings and gentle pushed the spout into the tree and attached the tubing and just used a simple gallon milk jug to collect the sap.

As the tree produces the sap I collect it and boil it down on the stove:

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So far, I have collected 15 jars and I have boiled them down to one jar.

As it boils, I skim of some of the foam that appears on top:

Maple Syrup Foam

At this point, as the sap boils, it is beginning to look, smell and taste like maple syrup but I still have a way to go!

This weekend it is going up to the 50’s during the day which means the sap should be flowing! I’ll keep you posted! ;)

So much to say…

14 Mar

It has been too long since I have sat down here at my computer to write a post but I must have thought about writing a post a hundred times. I have learned so much in the past year and I cannot wait to share it all!

For starters, I have been doing a lot of research on natural ways to boost the immune system, I have learned more about backyard foraging, home remedies and recipes and slow food preparation. I have also tapped my own maple tree and I am getting a first hand experience on maple syrup making!

I cannot wait to share everything I have learned with you!

Until then, here is my littlest with his grandmother collecting sap from the sugar maples:

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…and my biggest carrying the collection bucket :)

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Garden Tip #4 – Squash Blossoms

27 Jul

squash

As I picked through my garden this morning I thought of another post I could write. I found some beautiful cucumbers, delicious string beans and then, there they were… Squash Blossoms… those beautiful yellow flowers that give you the hope that they will turn into a beautiful pumpkin or zucchini. Well, not all of them do! There are male and female squash blossoms. Only the female blossoms will produce a hefty vegetable. The male blossoms, once they have cross-pollinated with the female have served their purpose…

Now if you ever started to question if it is worth having your squash plants take up all that space in the garden, only to deliver a few zucchini or butternuts, let me give you a little tip to persuade you otherwise… you can eat the male blossoms… and they are DELICIOUS!

You want to be sure it is a male blossom that you are picking, otherwise you can be cheating yourself out of a potential zucchini! Here is how you can tell them apart:

The male flower has a long stem and the female flower has no stem but something that looks like a baby squash. Organic Gardening has a little slideshow of photos to help you tell the difference.

July/August is primetime for squash blossoms! Go pick some and try them out!

Stumped on a recipe? Try this for starters. It is simple and it is lemon drop’s favorite!

Rinse off the blossoms and dip them in some pancake batter… Fry them in a pan with a little bit of butter and enjoy!

squash fry

 

Random fact: Squash plants are native to the Americas… The indigenous people of the Americas were enjoying squash blossoms for breakfast long before the Europeans even knew the existed… Consider yourself lucky! :D

How to Make Your Own Butter

26 Jul

I don’t consider myself a survivalist, but I would say we definitely have a lot in common… I just LOVE to understand how everything is made. I am just not satisfied with the modern-day thinking of “oh, I’ll just run to the store if I need this or that.” No, I want to know where it comes from and how I can make it myself. One the my more recent inquisitions was, “How to make butter.”

Now, believe me, if I had access to a cow, I would go milk that baby but, alas, I don’t own a cow and I don’t know anyone who has one I could borrow…But I do have a better idea of where heavy cream comes from, so I did buy that from the store… , leNow, let me present to you what you need to make your own butter:

 

ingredients

Heavy Cream
A Small Container with a secure fitting lid
A pair of strong arms

and…

A glass marble.

Here are a couple of tips before you get started… Making  butter requires a lot and I mean a LOT of shaking! Sure, you can ditch the marble and just throw the cream in a mixer to save a lot of trouble but we are in semi-survivalist mode here… Give your arms a little work out!

The smaller the container, the less cream, the less shaking you have to do. I recommend to start small so you can be sure you understand the whole process and you don’t give up before you see the miracle of you own butter forming.

It’s all about the marble, believe me! I tried it without the marble and it took forever! The marble just helps mix things up more and speeds up  the butter making process…just be sure you don’t eat the marble once you have your butter!!!!

Start off by placing the marble in the container and pouring in the cream so the container is halfway full (you need to leave space for things to shake around).

marble

Secure the lid on and shake away!!! Have the kids help too!

jacob shaking butter

Pretty soon, you won’t hear the cream sloshing around as you shake it and you won’t hear the marble moving around either.
This means you have reached the first stage of your butter making. If you open up the container you will see that it has reached the consistence of a whipped cream. At this point, you can remove the marble or dig it out of your butter later.

Place the lid back on and keep shaking. Since the cream is thicker, you have to shake a LOT harder.

stage 1of butter

Keep shaking until you begin to hear a sloshing sound again. That sound is the “buttermilk” separating from the butter. Open the lid again and behold your butter!

butter formed

Be sure to separate the butter and the “buttermilk” as the buttermilk will cause the butter to spoil faster. I usually run the butter under cold water really quick to be sure all the buttermilk is off.

butter complete

Store your butter and buttermilk in the refrigerator and use as usual (just don’t forget about the marble if you didn’t remove it earlier).

You can use this same approach for making flavored butter as well. Just add some salt or some cinnamon and sugar or some herbs to the cream before you start shaking!

Now go make and enjoy your homemade butter! ;)

Lemon Drop #2 Has Arrived!!!!

17 Jun

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Hi everyone! Sorry I have not posted much the past month! We have been busy welcoming another addition to our family! Lemon Drop #2 was born at the end of April. I am working in several new post that I will put up soon. In the meantime, please enjoy a picture of our two lemon drops meeting each other! :)

The Color of April and The Meaning of Flowers

17 Apr

Once the calendar turns to April here in New England, thee is always one color that comes to my mind… and no, it isn’t green… rather, the color yellow.

Between yellow crocus flowers, dandelions, daffodils and forsythia, everywhere I look I see these bursts of yellow among the leftover fallen leaves and twigs that accumulated over the winter.

As if to celebrate the anticipated arrival of all the spring flowers, I recently finished reading a book called “The Language of Flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. This book renewed my interest in looking into the secret message of flowers and what they mean. The book provides a little dictionary in the back that gives you the meaning of different plants and flowers. I decided to start a little blog project that will include posts of pictures of flowers that I find around my neighborhood and their meaning.

The first flower that I looked up was Forsythia since my son, lemon drop and I had just picked some forsythia branches from our back yard… Ironically, the meaning of forsythia is “anticipation”…Why the irony you ask? It is because I am due any day to give birth to our second son – the reason I have been a little MIA from posting about all my spring garden preparations :D

Forsythia (forsythia) - Anticipation

Forsythia (forsythia) – Anticipation

So here are a few flowers I found in bloom around our home this morning… It is interesting to see what kind of secret message we have been sending out to the world with our flower choices :)

Hope you enjoy this little side project of mine!…and, of course, I will be sure to add a little post about the arrival of our second little guy! :D

Dandelion (taraxacum) - Rustic Oracle

Dandelion (taraxacum) – Rustic Oracle

Daffodil (narcissus) - New Beginnings

Daffodil (narcissus) – New Beginnings

ivy

Ivy (hedera helix) – Fidelity

Phlox (phlox) - Our souls are united

Phlox (phlox) – Our souls are united

And finally, I will close the blog post with this one in my “anticipation” of our new arrival…

Moss (bryopsida) - Maternal Love

Moss (bryopsida) – Maternal Love

Happy Gardening! ;)

More On Rooting Sweet Potatoes

4 Apr

“How to Root a Sweet Potato” has, by far, been my most popular post. I have also received a lot of comments and emails with questions about the whole process. As a result, I decided to conduct a couple of experiments to hopefully help those who are having a little trouble getting their sweet potatoes to root…

sweet1

First – Just to review, the most important step is to get good, healthy, fresh, organic sweet potatoes… If they are too old, they may rot before they root. If they are not organic, they may not root at all because of growth retardants.

For my first experiment, I went out and bought some organic sweet potatoes from Trader Joe’s. My first impression was some of the potatoes in the bag were not as fresh as I would have prefered but I would give them a try. I took two of the freshest looking ones and cut them in half placing a total of 4 halves in a cup of water… I wanted to see if there was any benefit to cutting the potatoes in half as opposed to just placing the whole potato in the water.

After a few weeks, I was a bit disappointed to see that only one out of the 4 halves actually rooted… and it took longer to root than what I was used to.

sweet2

Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato – Cut and Rooting

Just to compare to be sure I did not lose my sweet potato rooting touch, I went to a local winter farmer’s market and bought a fresh, local, organic sweet potato. I placed the whole sweet potato in a some water and only after a week or two, it already started to root.

sweet4

Farmer’s Market Organic Sweet Potato – Uncut and Rooting

My conclusion: Cutting the potato in half or leaving it whole can both result in a well-rooted sweet potato.
My other conclusion: Not all organic sweet potatoes are created equal.

Maybe the Trader Joe’s Sweet Potatoes were not fresh enough? Maybe the “organic” label still allows for some growth retardants to be applied? I am really not sure. BUT if you are having trouble rooting your potatoes, maybe give another brand a try or, as I have suggested before, try to track down a local farm that sells their produce and try one of their potatoes. So far, that has always been what works the best for me!

sweet3

Trader Joe’s Sweet Potato with a Sprouting Slip

Good luck sprouting those tubers! ;)

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