<%image(20060327-sugarhouse.jpg|200|335|sugarhouse)%> We spent yesterday visiting a number of sugar houses in the area for the open house weekend. I was browsing the Bennington Banner this morning and found they had a picture of the place we visited yesterday. It was quite an operation.
The owner works in the construction industry, but apparently does maple syrup on the side in the winter. He has quite a bit of land with over 600 taps. While driving on the narrow dirt track know as Maple Hill Road, you can seen tons of tubes running down the hillside into holding tanks. While traditional tapping is done with a spout and a bucket, the latest trend is to run lines. It makes collecting the sap a whole lot easier. I recorded a short video of one of these lines. With the sound on you can hear the sap flowing. View the video.
The sap is then put into this huge evaporator machine. There basically is a rather large warming tank that gets the sap hot. The sap will start out clear and does not have any flavor that can be distinguished. Once the sap is warmed up, it is sent into several hot tanks that look like larger versions of the vats you would use for french fries. The picture here is of the evaporating end of the machine where the fire burns the hottest.
A wood fire keeps the temperature up around 218 degrees F. The syrup is boiled down until it has a brown/yellow hue. There are a number of kinds of syrup. The lighter kind is not boiled down quite as much. It is know as fancy and then the next down is grade A. This kind is good for breakfast since it’s not too sweet, but has a rich flavor. The grade B is the darker kind that is boiled longer and has a stronger, more concentrated flavor. This kind of syrup is typically used for baking, but if you have a sweet tooth, it may do the trick.
The smell in sugar shacks is simply astounding. It is all at once sweet and inviting with the mixture of syrup and wood burning. The finished syrup is pumped out of a tap into a bucket and then bottled. Maple Hill Maple, the place we visited, was selling the bottles of syrup while they were still hot.