St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Lake is Open!

The lake opened up fully on April 24 this year, about 1 week later than normal and nearly a week earlier than last year, April 29th.  The steady rain of yesterday soaked everything and has the grass starting to green up rapidly

We cooked out the last batch of syrup (we think it will be the last batch) finishing it on the main cooker yesterday afternoon.  That puts us at 20 gallons for 75 taps, a quart per tap as we expect in a normal year.  

Today we visit Anderson Maple near Cumberland, WI, to pick up containers for the syrup.  After we take it off of the large cooker, we let it cool down and settle for several days in 5 gallon pails, then pour off the top, bring it to exactly 7 degrees F above the boiling point of water as measured that day (it varies with air pressure) and then filter it, bring it back to a boil and bottle it in as sterile conditions as we can achieve.   That way it will last for many years. 

 Cousin Seldon in cleaning out his family home in Maple Grove 
township, Barron Co, WI 10 years ago found some he had made in the 1930s in the basement--still good tasting and looking fine!

Near Andersons Maple, we stop and visit cousin Albert Hanson.  He and I are just about the same age and share a common ancestor, Olaus Hansson (1816-1898).  His grandfather was Olaus 3rd son, Adolph Frederic, and my great grandfather was Olaus 2nd son, Charles Martin Hanson.   The two brothers families mostly lost contact with each other by the third generation here in WI, but I reconnected in 1999 when I converted to Genealogy, and tried to convert all of my relatives.  Albert and his mother were cousins who made the alter call. 

We plan to bottle some in 8, 12 and 16 ounce bottles, and more in 1 gallon jugs.  A niece is getting married (on Margo's side of the family) and wants to give out small bottles of syrup as wedding guest gifts--so 5 gallons of the best are reserved for that.  

We did 3 batches this year, each with a slightly different, but excellent taste and color.  Early season syrup is mild and light colored and late season is strong and dark.   With my fading taste buds, I like the late season best--I can taste the strong maple flavor!

Wednesday at the Luck Museum, a maple syrup beginner, who attended our February maple syruping session, brought in four samples of syrup for Chuck (another mapler) and I to sample.  Since we help judge syrup at the Polk County Fair, he wanted our opinion on his first year of making syrup. 

The first sample was clear, light amber in color, and very pleasant tasting with what I thought was a butterscotch like flavor dominating the maple flavor.   Since it is easy to get confused with tasting syrups, I didn't say much and then went through the other three.  

Sample 2 was more mapley, and quite good.  Three was also good, but distinctive.  Four was OK, but I thought had a slightly musty type of flavor.   I recognized all of the flavors having tasted many syrups at the fair judging as well as many of my own. 

(Scott and I in cleaning out the sap pan for the season, speculated on its use:   lets see, made in 1960, used for 54 years, average of 4 batches per year of 6 gallons per batch--324 distinct batches ranging from excellent to still sitting in jars on Mom's basement because she couldn't throw them out but also couldn't stand the flavor--about 2000 gallons total. --to put that in perspective, the amount of syrup one might get in one year from 8000 taps).  

Musing deeper on the sap pan--Grandfather (Ben?) Clayton of St Croix Falls, Clayton's Hardware, folded and riveted the pan for Dad.  After a year or two, Dad stiffened the sides by riveting a metal buggy tire rim along the pan rims which stick out a few inches to make handles to lift the pan off the fire.  The rims came from the Armstrong farm, the name of the farm where I have the cabin and taps, probably from a buggy last used in the 1920s.  When the Hanson's bought the farm from Ernest and Edith (Hedman) Armstrong in 1963, in the lane from barn to pasture were the metal remains of two old buggies, two old bobsleds, a farm wagon or two, and of course many horse drawn farm implements.  All that remained were the metal skeletons--the foot step, the rims, the springs, and some bolts.  Dad knew the location of every piece of scrap metal on his two farms, and kept them in mind for any project where they might be useful.  Whereas when Mom saw the store bill looming larger than the milk check, she hustled us into a scrap drive to take to Bair's at Frederic for cash, Dad kept every thing he could from her, knowing it would be useful someday.  I inherited those piles and am trying to decide if the extra universal joint from the old baler is really ready for "Gone Green" over at Frederic or if I might resurrect the 1960s baler...

So, getting back to the syrup tasting for the new syruper, Chuck and I made our evaluations and then asked for the batch details.  Number one was a professional local syruper who does has a few thousand taps out.  "Aha," I thought, "I recognized that flavor--it is the weak maple, smooth taste of reverse-osmosis syrup."  To save greatly on cooking energy costs, sap is run through the RO filter to concentrate it and cut the cooking time.  It works great, but since maple flavor is connected with chemical (carmelization type) changes with the cooking, the maple flavor can be hidden, even with dark colored syrup.  I don't like this!

Batch 2, my favorite, was freshly off the cooker with batch 3 not far behind. Both were pretty good.  Batch 4 was the first and had been stored for a week or two from a very early run before getting enough syrup to cook.  It had been stored in a cooler, but the first note in tasting was the slightly musty taste--not terrible, but not good like the others.  

Anyway, I told the judgee, that most big producers blended their syrup and aimed for a good quality standard taste and look and that is what they decided to do, having only 12 taps out and 2-3 gallons of syrup they planned to give as gifts.  

"What did it cost you?" I asked.  "$350 for a wood stove with a flat top at the hardware, $30 for some big kettles, $500 in labor, and now bottles and other miscellaneous.  Probably double the taps next year and maybe get a flat pan...."   Yep, they are hooked!