Categories
Children and Nature Uncategorized

Tapping Time

It has been a strange winter indeed.  If you can even call it a winter.  Certainly the extended periods of cold and accumulation of fluffy white snow that all Vermonters take for granted have been missed this year.  I’m moving on.  It’s Maple Syrup Season!

Tapping-2016-1

The forecast calls temperatures that dip below freezing at night and rise above freezing during the day.  That means it’s time to tap!  We are lucky to be surrounded by folks well-equipped to make delicious syrup from their sugar maple trees.  I don’t feel the need to invest time and money into making my own.  For the past few years, however, I’ve chosen to tap one tree at our house and use the sap for fun and delicious kitchen experiments.  It’s exciting to have a fresh ingredient to use after winter months of soups, stews, and frozen and canned veggies.  I encourage anyone who has a sugar maple in their yard to give it a try!

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

Categories
Recipes

Nourishing Homemade Granola

The comforting hot savory breakfasts I enjoyed all winter just aren’t appealing to me with increasingly warm bright sunny mornings.  Quitting my childhood habits of cereal or toast and jelly for breakfast, however, made me feel so good!  What should I turn to for a nourishing breakfast this summer?  Soaked granola with yogurt, sprouted seeds and nuts, and berries, of course!

homemade granola

I turned to City Market’s blog to find a great soaked-oat version of homemade granola.  I made the mistake of cutting the recipe in half.  One week later, I was back in the kitchen making a full batch.  The clusters are crunchy without being too hard.  The oats stick together, making nice crispy clumps rather than separating into the tiny morsels that comprised my past homemade granola attempts.

Soaking-oatsI followed this recipe and it came out great!  The only adjustment I made the second time was to include the dried coconut into the wet mixture before baking.  I liked to have the small bits included in the crunchy granola clusters and think coconut tastes best after roasting in the oven.

granola-ready-to-bakeI love the flexibility of this basic granola.  I add dried fruit, soaked nuts and seeds, and coco nibs to make a satisfying and nourishing trail mix.  I use it to top my yogurt, berry, and nut breakfast.  Sometimes I have a handful with a few dark chocolate chips and raw coco nibs instead of some other more addicting and sugary dessert.  Another plus: because it doesn’t have vegetable oils or seeds included in the basic recipe, this granola doesn’t go rancid sitting in the cupboard.

To learn more about soaked grains, nuts, and seeds, click here.

To read about how I make great home made yogurt, check out this blog post.

For the granola recipe, click here.

Enjoy!

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

DIY Maple Sugaring

winter-maple-branch

sap-drip-sumac-spileUp here in Vermont, our temperatures have begun rising above freezing during the day and falling below 32 degrees at night.  That means it’s sugaring season!  Though specialized technology and expensive equipment have been developed to help large sugar-makers boost their production of luxurious maple syrup, it’s possible to make maple syrup in your back yard without spending much.  One thing is consistent for all scales of syrup production: it takes a lot of time!

hang-sap-bucket

It is early spring.  I’m itching to spend more time outside, am no longer excited by our local ingredients stored or preserved many months ago, and won’t start my garden for several months.  I find that tapping, collecting sap, and experimenting with this sweet ingredient in the kitchen is exactly how I’d like to spend my spare time.

sap-pour

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree

Categories
Home Gardens Musings

Spring in the Back Yard

Spring has finally sprung in Vermont!  We had a beautiful warm weekend to spend in the yard discovering signs of spring and cleaning up remnants of fall and winter.  Plants and animals are emerging after a long cold winter.

Last sap of the season drips out of my sumac spiles
Last sap of the season drips out of sumac spiles
A sweet and tangy batch of sap sumac camomile tea
A sweet and tangy batch of sap sumac camomile tea to start the day
Day Lilly shoots have emerged
Day lily shoots have emerged
I dug up some day lilly shoots and tubers.  Fry firm tubers and shoots in butter with salt.  Yum!
I dug up some day lily shoots and tubers. Fry firm yellow tubers and young shoots in butter with salt. Yum!
chickens-range-free
Chickens range free before the garden is planted.  They’ll eat ticks and grubs and loosen soil as they forage.
Early spring garden treasure hunt! Parsnips survived the winter under a layer of hay.  They are sweet and firm!
Early spring garden treasure hunt! Parsnips survived the winter under a layer of hay. They are sweet and firm!
Early spring parsnip harvest.
Early spring parsnip harvest.
The sour leaves of sorrel have emerged - a perfect fresh garnish for tonight's dinner!
The sour leaves of sorrel have emerged – a perfect fresh garnish for tonight’s dinner!
Our first crocus.  Happy Spring!
Our first crocus. Happy Spring!
Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Maple Sugaring from Scratch: Sumac Spiles

Sumac-GroveLast year I had a lot of fun experimenting with maple sap in the kitchen.  We made sap tea, sap beer, sap poached sweet potatoes, sap soda, and maple baked beans… mmm!  I had borrowed buckets and spiles from neighbors to tap several trees with the students in my after school program.  We harvested more than enough sap to taste test, boil down, and cook with.

This year I missed having  sap to cook with, so I decided to try to tap a maple in our yard without buying any supplies.  Buckets or milk jugs are pretty easy to find around the house.  What I really needed was a spile, or tap.  Using a method common before metal was widely available, I hollowed out the inside of a sumac branch.

Sumac-BerriesStaghorn sumac is a common small tree in eastern North America.  It has big red clusters of seeds that have a great sour flavor and can be used to make tea or a locally sourced substitute for lemonade.  The centers of its branches are very pithy, making them easy to hollow out and make tubing or spouts.

hollowed-tubeMaking sumac spiles was easy, but it went below freezing and I have yet to see if they work well.  With forecasted temperatures above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap will flow and I’ll find out soon!  For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school, check out this blog post.  For games and activities to liven up and inform the process for elementary school students, check out this blog post.

Cut-into-segments

Poke-out-pith

taper-one-end

tapping-maple-home

 

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

A Short and Sweet Week of Sugaring with Students

I learned an incredible amount from coordinating The Somerville Maple Syrup Project, but in the end, too many of the lessons were about testing my limits and endurance.  This year, however, I was thrilled to be in Vermont and be able to bring a short and sweet week of Maple Madness to my after school students.

What I learned?: Any group of kids with access to sugar maples can participate in fun sugaring activities without requiring any money or superhero feats from the adults coordinating the program.  If you work with a group of young students, I strongly encourage you to build in maple programming next March!  Here’s what to consider:

Materials: Taps, hooks, buckets, and covers (about 4 each); cordless drill with a 7/16″ bit, hammer, measuring tape, and several food grade 5 gallon buckets.  In Vermont, many sugar makers have upgraded to smaller taps or tubing, rather than the older buckets and taps.  Make friends with local sugar makers and your cafeteria director!  A chat with your local maple producers association or neighbors and friends who tap trees may reward you with valuable tips and information.  What random supplies do they have laying around?  Cafeteria directors usually get some foods in 5 gallon buckets.  They also have large stoves with hoods and broiler pans, which will come in handy in the boiling phase.

Tapping:

1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter.  Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter. Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree (for chart, click here)
3) Drill a hole 1.5" into the sapwood using 7/16" bit.  Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
3) Drill a hole 1.5″ into the sapwood using 7/16″ bit. Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap!  Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap! Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid

Collection:

Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing.  Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees
Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing. Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees.

Boiling: With permission from your cafeteria staff, boil sap exposing the most surface area possible.  We boiled in pans on the stove top, with the hood fan on to pull steam up and away.  In 2.5 hours, we’d reduced 5 gallons to 5 cups!  Our final product was very sweet and mapley.  If we’d reduced it further to 2.5 cups, we’d have official maple syrup.

Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans
Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans

Maple-taste-testTasting! and Learning Extensions: We did a group taste test of sap (I brought some to a quick boil to sanitize it), carbonated sap (made with a Soda Stream Machine), and our final boiled almost-syrup product.  We then generated “description words” (or adjectives) that described the smell, taste, feel, and look of sap vs. syrup.  We’ll use these words to write poems for our next After School Newsletter!

Refer to my Maple Syruping with Kids blog entry to get ideas for games, activities, and curriculum connections.  In the end, we had way more sap than we could drink or boil, leaving plenty to play with.  Check out different experimental recipes from my Cooking with Maple Sap post.

sap-syrup-adjectives

Categories
Recipes

Cooking with Maple Sap

Sap flow was heavy this weekend in Vermont.  We’re entering that muddy and delicious season where driving down most rutted back roads is rewarded by the smell of sweet steam flowing out of a sugar shack.

sap-pourWe put in a few taps this year, but we don’t have an evaporator.  Home-made versions generally rely of a lot of wood or a lot of propane, and the cheapest commercial evaporators are all over $1000.  Why not just cook with sap?

We’ve had great luck each time we sneak sap into a recipe to add sweetness.  We’ve focused on foods that use water like tea, oatmeal, beer, and baked beans rather than cakes and cookies.

oatmeal-sapOatmeal: I boiled my oats in sap instead of water.  Topping it with sweet blueberries and sour raspberries and sprinkling walnuts on top made a delectable breakfast.  The oatmeal was mildly sweet.  If you’re used to unsweetened oatmeal, you’ll consider this a treat.  Compared to the flavored instant packets, however, the sap sweetness is much more subtle.

beer-sapBeer: We’ve been wanting to make more beer, so we’re starting out with a few kits.  We divided the ingredients for a Pale Ale batch in half.  For one half, we followed the instructions.  For the other, we used sap instead of water.  We can’t wait for the fermentation to finish so we can do a taste test!

tea-sapTea and Coffee: Tea and coffee are the simplest ways to enjoy sap.  Adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a cup of water, after all, reverses all that evaporation work.  For tea, all you need to do is seep your tea bag in boiled sap.  For coffee, use a french press so that you can substitute sap for water without making the internal parts of your coffee machine sticky.

Poached Sweet Potatoes: Our left over baked sweet potatoes needed to get sparked up.  I started by bringing 4 cups of sap to a boil in a frying pan.  The large surface area allows for quick evaporation.  I added rosemary, Bell’s seasoning, and garlic powder to the “broth.”  I was surprised by how quickly the water evaporated!  When the liquid was only about a centimeter deep, I mixed in a tablespoon of cranberry sauce and added my wedged sweet potatoes.  After a few minutes with periodic stirring, the chemistry of the broth changed and it became browner and sticky.  Deliciously beyond poached.  Voila: sap-glazed sweet potatoes!

sweet potatoes sap

Next up? Making Sap Soda by carbonating sap and different herbal sap teas in a Soda Stream machine.  Baked Beans by boiling dried pinto beans in an uncovered pot of sap rather than water.  I imagine that the hour+ of boiling required to soften the beans will allow quite a bit of water to evaporate.  And Poached Salmon in sap with ginger and soy sauce.  Comment below if you have other ideas I should try!!