Backyard sugaring a ‘fun and unique experience’

  • A maple syrup display in Davenport Maple Farm’s evaporating room. PHOTO BY CRIS CARL

  • Many of the ribbons won by Davenport Maple Farm over the years from the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, Franklin County Fair, and other organizations. PHOTO BY CRIS CARL

  • Lisa and Norman Davenport, fourth generation owners of Davenport Maple Farm. PHOTO BY CRIS CARL

  • An evaporator at Davenport Maple Farm. PHOTO BY CRIS CARL

For the Recorder
Published: 3/7/2022 3:39:02 PM

One of the special annual events for us here in New England is the maple sugaring season. Close proximity to sugaring farms such as Davenport Maple Farm in Shelburne also means a great place to enjoy the fruits of their labor in the form of delicious breakfasts. Lisa Davenport, owner at Davenport, offered tips and suggestions for people who have a stand of maple and would like to try their hand at sugaring at home.

“Be prepared to spend a lot of time with the process, but it’s fun and a unique experience, especially with kids,” she said.

Davenport Maple Farm was purchased in 1913 by her husband Norman’s family.

“We’re the fourth generation running the farm,” she said.

The farm offers hearty breakfasts during the sugaring season on the weekends and visitors can also observe the sugaring process. The farm also sells fresh eggs and raw milk.

Materials needed for sugaring

■Taps (spouts that are pounded into the trees); metal or plastic buckets, tubs, or jugs

■A deep metal pan that can hold five gallons, such as for canning, which can then also be used as an evaporator pan for boiling the sap.

■A gas grill or backyard wood stove/fireplace (Davenport recommends the gas grill as it’s much easier to control the temperature)

■A candy thermometer.

■Glass canning jars, glass bottles, or high temperature plastic containers for storage once the syrup is made.

The home process

“Whatever you do, don’t try doing it in your kitchen. Especially if you have wallpaper. We’re talking about a lot of sticky steam,” said Davenport with a laugh.

There are many variables in sugaring given weather, how many trees, etc., but the basic process is always the same. The Massachusetts Maple Association recommends selecting trees that are at least 12 inches in diameter for one tap, and 24 inches in diameter for two taps per tree. (Also, be certain it’s actually a maple tree.) With a hammer, tap spouts into your trees about two inches in for a good tight fit.

“You don’t want sap seeping around the tap,” Davenport said.

Next, affix some type of bucket or jug to allow the sap to gather. Davenport said be sure to not let the sap sit and to gather it as frequently as possible.

“At least every day or every other day at the most. The quicker you boil it the lighter the syrup will be,” she said.

Davenport said that early in the season, which generally runs from the “time the trees thaw until the buds pop open. It’s cold, clean, and fresh sugar water. There is less chance of bacteria.”

She added that flavor differences in light to dark syrups are more delicate to stronger flavors. Also, the amount and type of sugars in the sap change with the temperatures. Colder temperatures will render sap that makes lighter syrup. When it gets warmer, the sap runs more easily and has a higher concentration of sugars that create a darker syrup that caramelizes more easily, she said. Supplies are available at local businesses like the Greenfield Farmer’s Exchange, or on Facebook Marketplace, Davenport said. It is important to note that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Once a good amount of sap has gathered, boil it at 219 degrees, seven degrees above boiling. The temperature must be monitored to be kept at that specific temperature, Davenport said. Within an hour or so the sap will have boiled down quite a bit and it will be much thicker. At that point, Davenport said it can be taken inside to finish on the stove.

“You’ve got to be paying attention though. Walk away for a minute and you will scorch it,” she said.

Davenport added that maple sap is about 98% water and only 2% sugars, hence the steam.

OK, so the sap is boiled down into syrup and it’s time to bottle it. Using the aforementioned types of containers, fill the containers to the top leaving as little room for air as possible. Doing this helps prevent mold and spoilage. Davenport said if hot syrup is put into a canning jar and then sealed, “you’ll be able to keep that for a good long while.” If the syrup is not boiled down enough, there will be too much water which will lead to fermentation in the product. Overcooking can lead to sugar crystals at the bottom “like rock candy,” she said. Store the finished product in a cool place.

Other tips and information on sugaring

Davenport said that depending on the temperature, one can expect roughly three gallons of sap per day from maple trees. Sugar contents vary from tree to tree. When boiling the sap, be aware as the syrup gets thicker the boiling point goes up, and keep this in mind while monitoring the temperature. Boiled-down sap can be transfered to a smaller pot to bring indoors which makes monitoring the syrup easier. Good temperatures for sap running in the trees is about 20 to 25 degrees at night and about 40 degrees in the day.

“That’s what’s ideal. Don’t ever let your sap freeze solid as it will likely burst open the bucket or other gathering container,” she said.

Davenport added that allowing the sap to “freeze a little” helps concentrate the sap. “Toss the ice off the top and leave the concentrated sap,” she said.

Maple Pea Bean recipe

1 pound Navy pea beans

½ pound of salt pork

½ cup molasses

½ cup maple syrup

¾ tsp. mustard

1/8 tsp. paprika

1/8 tsp. pepper

1 tsp. salt

1 grated apple

Soak beans overnight in cold water. Rinse and cook with enough with enough fresh water to cover until the skins start to crack. Pour beans into a 2 ½ quart casserole or bean pot. Cook salt pork partially and drain. Add salt pork and all other ingredients to the beans and mix well. If needed, add enough water to cover the beans. Cover and bake at 300 degrees for five to six hours. Davenport Maple Farm is located at 111 Tower Rd. in Shelburne and can be reached at 625-2866.

Cris Carl is an avid local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist. She is an experienced journalist who has written for the Recorder for many years. You can reach her at cstormfox57@gmail.com.


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