Ottertail Country

Ottertail Country
Ottertail South

March 23, 2011

Syrup time in Wisconsin


February and March are generally known for our kids' birthdays. All three fall in a three week period, and most years we manage to get at least two of them here on the same weekend. That did not happen this year, but Rosie made it home from Milwaukee for a couple of days.

I think she was laughing because I was yelling about the smoke detector, a fire hose, whatever... you see, the candles we found (the only ones not packed up and moved) were some that were mostly melted together into clumps, hence the three giant flames.

Anyway, the supper and cake were good, the company great, and that's all that counts.

Well, it's that time of year again, the maple trees start leaking and folks scramble to collect that sap and boil it down into syrup.

Here's a trick I learned from an old timer near Prentice. You start with a standard, single spile (tap) that is made for use with sap tubing. A short piece of sap tubing is attached to the spile. Then you take the cap from a previously super-washed-out milk jug and drill a 3/8 hole in the center. Slide the cover on the tube, slide on a plated flat washer for better support and then skewer the tube near the bottom with a cut-off piece of a finishing nail.....

Here is the entire rig. You need to poke a pinhole into the jug near the very top to let air out as the sap drips in. You can see one of these rigs in action on the next edition of Ottertail Country.

Some friends had asked about borrowing some of my syrup cooking equipment. They had never done this process before, so were looking to try it out before springing for a bunch of equipment. Of course, that sounded good to me, and here is the grocery bag full of milk jug spiles that I sent over to their house.

Next, I dug out the first 'evaporator' that I built in the early 90's????
I managed to get the stove, pans, doors and stove pipe all on one load on the mighty Ford tractor.

Another view, by putting the heaviest end forward and using a couple of ratchet straps, I was able to cantilever the load out behind with little trouble. The stove was made from a 55gal drum with one side opened up, a framework added to hold the pans in place, an 8" smoke pipe outlet at one end and a set of fire doors at the other. It works pretty well with the right length of stove pipe and some quality firewood.

Here is the second evaporator that I built. It had two main pans with a pre-heater pan at the front. For the next season, I added some length, another large pan and an inset front pan. Rosie split nearly every piece of firewood that we used that year. We found and cut a dead red oak that was standing in the woods with no bark on it. A huge tree, we used the limbs for firewood and later had some boards sawn from the trunk. The limbs were dry enough that we used them for cooking with great results.

Rosie and Bryn 'minding the cooker'. This was the first year that I made syrup since moving back to the Ogema homestead, sometime in the mid-late 90's. There were some days that I hurried home from work to collect and cook and I found Herb and Lucy sitting in the doorway of the shed, keeping an eye on the cooking operation they had started earlier!! That was always a bonus to get a jump on the day's cooking......

The next summer I built this lean-to roof at the east end of the shed, made a hole in the roof for the smoke pipe, and the cooker was now out of the weather! First time we ever had a roof over the operation. I believe we have Kate and Lucy enjoying the sun on the south side of the shed, while Bryn is tending the fire in the cooker.

Here's how the cooker looks after the mentioned modifications. And as you can see, we had enough of that oak for about three years. The entire east wall of the cook area consisted of firewood stacked between the support posts.

And this, of course, is the goal. Some fresh griddle cakes with home-made maple syrup adorning the stack.......

Next installment will include some photos of the loaned-out equipment in action as well as the final result. Stay tuned.

I gotta go, Carlo



Anonymous said...

As nice as it is to celebrate all three birthdays together, you get more cake and ice cream when you celebrate them separately :-)

MMMmmm, real maple syrup! Adam about finished off our last bottle on pancakes for dinner tonight! Neat to see how you make it!


Anonymous said...

Just love this whole post ... making maple syrup is one of the best things in the world ... the whole process ... thanks
Mary A

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the birthday cake and visit! :) I do miss the syrup cooking evenings....particularly the smell :)~Rosie

Mike said...

That looks truely awesome. We can only get maple syrup from the shiop over here in Scotland. I might keep an eye out next time I'm out in the woods though.

Nice tractor too.