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Maple syrup productions is not just something that happens farther north, in places like Vermont. Tom Scanlan and Sarah Fauber of Riversong Farm discovered that maple syrup can be made right here in Kentucky. They started tapping the silver maple trees on their farm in early February and are making maple syrup a few feet away.
Silver maples like those being tapped at Riversong Farm have about 1.5 percent sugar content in the sap. The sap must be cooked until the sugar content is 66 percent before it can be called syrup. Sugar maples, which are the traditional sugaring tree, have a 3 percent sugar content in the sap.
They put taps in the trees during the second weekend of February, and started cooking the sap down on Valentine’s Day. They are now on to their third stove for cooking the sap.
They tried cooking it inside, but quickly learned there is a reason that maple sap is usually cooked outside. The vapor is filled with sugar and leaves behind sugar beads when it dissipates. Also, since so much liquid evaporates, it makes the air very humid. Then they tried using an antique wood burning stove that Fauber’s father lent to them. The opening for the wood was on the top, though, and they had to move the sap to add wood.
They currently have a stove built from concrete blocks with a stovepipe on the back. They are using steam pans to cook down the sap. Scanlan set up a make-shift lean-to to block the wind from the flames.
Tree sap starts running when the weather turns to warmer days with freezing temperatures at night. The time frame varies each year and by location, but can run for 4-6 weeks. It takes about 10-12 gallons of sap to get 1 quart of maple syrup.
The sap must be cooked within 2 days of being collected or it starts to ferment.
“The end of season is marked by when trees start to bud,” said Scanlan.
“The flavor becomes bitter and unpalatable, I’ve read,” said Fauber.
The maple sap is surprising in texture and taste. It is very thin, with the consistency of water. The flavor has just a hint of maple and is sweet. It is not sticky as one might expect tree sap to be.
They have 12 taps on several trees. The number of taps that can be placed in a single tree is determined by the diameter of the tree. No more than 3 taps can be placed in even a large tree. They only ordered 12 taps this year because this is a practice year, and they did not want to get overwhelmed.
“Tom tends to think big,” said Fauber.
The trees should be tapped on the southside if possible because the sun warms that side of the tree first.
Unfortunately, all of the trees that Scanlan was able to tap this year were on the bank of the river which puts the south side of the tree next to the water.
When Scanlan was placing the taps on the first day, some of the buckets fell into the river.
“ So, every once in a while I hear a bucket splash down ten feet into the river, and I have to chase it with a rotten branch down the river, diving down and up the bank around trees to retrieve the lost bucket,” said Scanlan.
Scanlan and Fauber were inspired by reading Helen and Scott Nearing’s books about homesteading in Vermont, where they harvested maple syrup. They also read an article from the UK Department of Agriculture about maple syrup production in Kentucky.
The length of time the sap cooks determines the grade of the syrup. The higher grade A is for a shorter cook time and a lighter color. A longer cook time creates the lower grade B with a darker color and stronger flavor.
Fauber noted that the first cooking that they did created a very pale syrup with a mild flavor that might be graded as what is known as “New York Fancy” style.
Currently, they are intending the syrup to be primarily for personal use.
“In the future, we would like it to be more profitable,” said Fauber.
Their goal has always been to try to provide as much of their own food as possible.
“One of the things I thought I’d always have to buy was sugar,” said Scanlan. He was excited to be able to add maple syrup to his coffee instead of sugar on the day after the first successful cook down.
“It’s so expensive in stores, and I can understand why now,” said Fauber.