Monday, April 1, 2013

anishinaabe-zhiiwaagamizigan (Maple Syrup)

Above is some of our finished syrup ready to put on pancakes, waffles and cornbread.  This pint's sweet deliciousness was a long time in the making.  First going back to the Native Americans who figured out the process to begin with.  Several years back, I team taught a history class where both the students and I learned about Ojibwe sugar camps.  Finally I realized that the vacant lot next to my house has two healthy maple trees that wouldn't mind being tapped.

This led to the family and I taking a class at Fort Snelling State Park where we learned about the process.  At several points during our lesson Claire referred to her mom and I as nerds.

 Later, Claire and her friends were an enthusiastic part of the tapping process.  A spile in the trees filled the blue bags with clear watery sap.  It had just a hint of sweetness straight out of the tree.

We collected about five gallons that we kept reducing in the wok on the left.  We used the red pot to heat the sap to boiling before adding it to the reducing pot.  Dips in the temperature of the sap while reducing the liquid makes for dark and unappealing syrup. 
Many sites we saw warned against reducing the sap indoors.  A brisk wind outside and two open windows kept our kitchen from steaming up.  It was great to use the consistent heat of our range burners.

 After all five gallons of sap condensed to fit into our wok, we used a thermometer with an alarm to help us keep from turning our syrup into maple sugar. As the sugar concentration goes up so does the boiling temperature of the almost syrup reduction.  Our goal was seven degrees above the boiling temperature of water at our elevation and air pressure.  We calibrated our thermometer, and found that water boiled at the normal 212F, so we shut all heat off at 219 degrees.  Ling-Hui was the master sap collector and boiler.  She did a great job.  As I remember the women in the Ojibwe camps also excelled at these same tasks.
 After hitting our target temperature, the wok now contains maple syrup.  The minerals in the sap, however, make it cloudy and unattractive. The Chemex coffee filter system below turned our murky syrup into light amber goodness.
 The purchase of materials, time and energy made this the most expensive syrup we have ever had. But, it was still a rewarding process with deep roots into the land and into the past.

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