Arnprior Christmas Craft-Bake-Business Fair

I’ve been in the kitchen all day today preparing for the One of a Kind Christmas Craft-Bake -Business Fair, happening from 10:00-4:00 this Saturday in Arnprior at the Nick Smith Centre, 77 James St.  On the docket for today was 2 batches of maple butter.  Tomorrow I’ll change my focus to maple cones, then Thursday on to maple pies, and fudge on Friday.  By the end of the week my house will be full of sweet smells of decadence, aromas of maple perfuming the air.  This will be my first time attending the Arnprior craft fair.  It’s a bit further from home, yet still local and I’m still hopeful to see some familiar faces.  My hopes are that branching out to the Arnprior fair will help in distinguishing Julia’s Tree Stand Maple Syrup as a local, high quality maple syrup brand.

If you’re an Arnprior local, come find me at the fair!  For more info, click here.  Hope to see you there!

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Final Last Day

Today is our final, last day of maple syrup production.  I feel like I’ve been a broken record about that lately; I’ve said this is our final day for three days now. To elaborate, we can only finish so much syrup at a time in our finishing unit.  Then we take that batch of syrup in to be bottled.  All in all, it takes roughly 2.5-3 hours for us to finish a batch.  We managed to get three done yesterday before calling it quits.  We are finding the “bottleneck” in our process is the filtering stage; when it was cold out I could understand how the syrup would cool down too much to flow well through the filter, but we’re finding even in the warmer weather it’s still getting hung up and slowing us down.  I will focus on brainstorming improvements in this area for next year.

Getting back to my point, today is our final, last day.  Whew!

Maple Syrup Season: Round 2

Sugarshack Dutch Doors

Wistful thoughts of mine include hanging my shingle beside this door and selling maple syrup straight from the sugar shack.

With my second maple syrup season approaching quickly, thoughts of the sugar bush have been consuming my mind: sustainable woodlot practices, food preparation, equipment preparation…  The list goes on.  I’ve been tinkering with the idea of selling some of my maple syrup.  In designing the sugar shack we included a set of Dutch doors on one side of the entry way.  For me these doors bring to mind visions of old bakeries and other food producing kitchens where consumers could approach a kitchen and purchase food within minutes of it coming out of the oven.  I value the notion of goods going straight from producer to consumer.   Now, our operation is too remote (and muddy) to expect people to come knocking on our door looking for syrup, beyond a couple sales to friends at a pancake breakfast I plan on hosting but it’s still fun to include the Dutch doors design element into our sugar shack.  Since we are located close to Carp, selling at the Carp Farmer’s Market is the next best thing to selling straight from the sugar shack.

Here is my label design in all of it's glory.

Here is my label design in all of it’s glory.

 

For fun I designed a logo to put on my bottles.  The design is a simple drawing; pencil, very flat style.  Basic yet distinct.  I chose these elements to convey the traditional, back to basics nature of our methods; and the unique flavors of pure maple syrup.  (What’s more is unlike some commercial brands my syrup is made from 100% maple syrup and doesn’t contain a plethora of ingredients that you can’t pronounce!)  Since I’ve got the design figured out, my next step is to find some label paper that I can print on and set up a printer template.  I’m thinking that I want an arched top, however that may cut off a lot of my drawing.  Maybe I should add some more tree limbs to the top….  Back to the drawing board!!

 

End of Season

Our maple syrup season has come to a close.  What a rush this season has been though!  From start to finish this season has kept me busy fulfilling some responsibility or another.  We had a busy Saturday April 12 boiling the last draw, then I made the decision Sunday April 13 to pull the taps.  When we got out to the bush my decision was confirmed by what I viewed in the first couple of buckets; just enough sap to cover the bottom of the bucket, not enough to justify another boil though.   Moreover, my decision to pull the taps Sunday instead of Monday was further validated by the steady downpour of rain Monday brought.  So I finished my final batch Monday, then tallied up our syrup production for this year.  Our total yield for 2014 is a whopping 70 Litres of syrup!

Now I have 150 each of buckets, spiles and lids to wash; the evaporator to scrub out; the finishing unit to scrub out; bottling equipment to clean; the collecting tank, the boiling instruments, the filters, the holding tank; all of this equipment needs to be cleaned before storing them for next year.

After buckets have been washed, we set them out to dry (or hand dry) before stowing them for next season

After buckets have been washed, we set them out to dry (or hand dry) before stowing them for next season

 

This year was a whirl-wind adventure and, while the learning curve was steep I’ve gleaned several important points for next season, including that if I try and drive across the field when it’s muddy after the thaw I will get stuck and need my neighbor to help push me out.  I’m excited for next year.  I have my eye set on a workshop or two in the coming months, that teach about maple syrup production to hobbyists, and forest management.  For now though, I’m content with finishing cleaning up and catching up on some well-needed rest.

Maple Syrup Season

It has been a unique season, I’ll say that much.  An uncharacteristically cold March, followed by what seemed to me to be a rapid spike in temperatures has not boded well for the maple syrup season here in Eastern Ontario.   With the temperature warming up so quickly, the significant snowfall we have experienced this year is now melting, quickly!  Left in the snow’s wake is mud.  Tons of mud!  Enough mud to make sap collection with a motorized vehicle not possible without getting stuck in the mud.  Back to basics for us!  Armed with an 8-gallon milk jug, two collecting pails, a sled to transport everything and the will-power of true Canadians we set out to collect as much sap as our milk jug would let us.  We headed for the furthest trees first and worked our way forward from there.  Hauling everything there was more than half the battle – we dealt with steep inclines, a tippy sled and lots of sticky mud!  We filled our jug from 30 buckets… only 110 buckets to go!  Time to trek back to the house.

At the risk of losing our sap, we opted to travel a different route back, a route with less tipping hazards.  We pulled the sled across the pasture instead of in front of the treeline.  At the ridge we carefully guided the jug of sap down the path to the front field, checking the ridge-buckets along way.  They were over half full and needed emptying too.  We had to go back to the house to get the 50 gallon holding tank and UTV, not merely an 8-gallon milk jug to collect all this sap.  Off we went, across the snowy field, taking turns pulling the sled or holding the jug upright while pushing the sled.  Whose crazy ‘let’s make maple syrup’ idea was this anyways?  I sheepishly grin and avert my gaze.

Maple Bush

Maple Bush

As twilight falls, the maple bush burns a mesmerizing pink or gold color. Do not be fooled by the warm colors though: there was nothing warm about the biting temperature!

Our path winds along the side of a field, then cuts into the forest and climbs the slope of the ridge. The path curls through the trees, strategically passing by stands of maples for easier collection in the early spring when snow drifts hinder bucket brigading efforts that our traditional maple sap collection process involves. The warmer temperatures in early March certainly had us fooled – after I motivated 4 family members to help tap some trees the temperatures plummeted to lows of -20C some nights. Getting to take in views like this help make up for my over-eagerness I hope!