This past weekend, on Friday, I fulfilled yet another bucket list item (speaking of which, I should go see if it is actually on my bucket list, so I can cross it off. . . I don’t know about you, but I have lots of mental bucket list things I don’t actually write down…). I went to a Maple Farm and not only got to watch them tap a tree and make syrup–I actually got to help! Seriously, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time!
Daniel and I invited our friends to come with, and it was even more fun to watch the kids interact with the experience.
We went to Back Creek Farms, where we had the entire farm to ourselves for the afternoon. The first thing you notice when you walk in is the smell. Oh. My. Gosh. That sweet, almost earthy, yet heavenly smell of maple goodness just surrounds you, not to mention the warmth of the boiling syrup. They were boiling a brand new batch in a huge 150-year old English Tin pan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, Valerie (one of the proprietors), brought us out to a maple tree, where she lifted the lid to the tin bucket and showed us the sap dripping out. Seriously, we actually watched it drip into the bucket! It was a clear liquid, much to my surprise, and then she dipped small glasses into it to let each of us taste it. I always assumed that maple sap was dark brown, thick, and super sweet, but it was, as Valerie called it, sugar water. It just tasted like very lightly sweetened wild water.
From there, we went inside, to be surrounded by the warmth and sweetness of the maple syrup boiling, made from sap that they had just gathered the day before. As mentioned, the pan they were using was 150 years old (or so), made around the civil war, and though they have an electronic evaporator, it is still their preferred method for syrup making. It certainly was more fun to watch! It was simmering mostly on one end, where we later learned the fire was, and the other end was thicker and darker. Even as we watched, the simmering pattern varied as the syrup thickened and got closer to being ready. Valerie and Pat poured us each some of the syrup straight from the pan so we could taste how much sweeter it was, even incomplete.
Then we got to taste some actual syrup from the bottle, which was, of course, delicious, sweet, and just what you’d expect from fresh made syrup. Even better, though, was that Valerie brought us into the back room, and had us taste their bourbon-infused syrup straight from the barrel! Heavens above, now that was good. The unique, local bourbon was prevalent in the sweet maple, and simply to die for.
Then, after handing each of us some maple sugar candy made fresh that morning specifically for us, Valerie handed us some tools as well, and we all went outside to tap a tree!! She showed us how they choose a tree that has not been tapped out, are careful to position the hold far enough away from other holes that the tree can heal itself, and then drilled a hole in it. The clear sap immediately began running, and she helped the kids tap a spout into the hole…and then let the adults help as well…before showing us how to affix the bucket and the cap.
Then we all tromped back inside, greeted yet again by the sweet scent of maple, where Pat was waiting for us to begin the process of removing the syrup and putting it on the stove for filtering. Pat and Valerie worked together, using a bucket to transfer most of the syrup, and finally lifting the pan together and tilting it to get the last of the sweet liquid out.
We followed them to the back of the sugar shack, where we watched Pat put food grade diatomaceous earth in the liquid to help purify it, and then began straining it. Of course, they strained some straight into a cup for us, and that warm maple syrup was undoubtedly the best syrup I have ever had in my life. One sip of it and Daniel told them we’d take a bottle. Whereupon, they pulled out glass pint bottles, applied the labels in front of us, and filtered it straight into the bottle. Warm and everything.
And just in case we weren’t already feeling spoiled, they then proceeded to pull out the supplies for s’mores, including letting us roast marshmallows over the coals.
Finally, as the pièce de résistance, we went into their store, and Valerie let us try almost all of their flavored syrups, from chili pepper to spiced elderberry to rum…there were too many flavors to track, each more delicious than the last. I am not going to confess to you how much we bought, but I can tell you one thing–it was totally worth it, and I can’t wait to go back and buy the flavors we didn’t get!
And that was my experience at a Maple Farm. It’s almost enough to make me want to write a book placed on a maple farm, just to share it again!