I stopped by Mast family’s farm on my way home this afternoon to restock gallons and quarts of their maple syrup. Maple season is in full swing, and this spring the sap flow has been tremendous. For some of their runs they are seeing twice the flow compared to where they were last year.
Their maple syrup has been a popular seller among our customers, so I wanted to give everyone an idea of what things look like on their farm. I’d normally show a picture of the people producing this food, but the Mast family is Amish, and thus they would prefer not to be photographed (no they don’t believe silly ideas that cameras will steal their souls; it is more of a humility principle). But they don’t object to me taking pictures of their sugar shack. During sugaring season days are long: hauling sap, tending the fire, fiddling with the evaporators, bottling syrup, repairing broken plumbing, and trying to keep up with all the normal farm chores, so I try not to take up too much of their time. They work hard to produce maple syrup (as well as raising beef cattle, wholesaling pumpkins, and operating a metal fabrication and repair shop and a fabric shop all on their farm). Here’s a brief photographic tribute to the work they do.
We had to take the buggy out because the lane was too slick for my two wheel drive van. Hey, some people pay for Amish buggy rides, but I get mine for free.
Instead of big metal spiles and buckets, maple trees are tapped these days with small diameter spiles and plumbed through tubing networks to bulk tanks at the bottom of slopes. The smaller drilled holes are easier on the trees. And nobody misses the work of carrying thousands of buckets of sap by hand!
The tubing is self supporting with loops positioned around each end tree. Forty gallons of sap for each gallon of syrup, one drip at a time.
Here is a stand of sugar maple trees (a sugar bush if you want to speak the lingo), with a complicated network of lines. The Masts need to walk their lines each day when they have heavy, wet snow since sections can get knocked down, buried, and frozen.
The sugar shack puffing off clouds of steam as the water evaporates. The big draft horses that move this wagon are off in the barn taking it easy for the rest of the afternoon.
This firebox is about three feet wide and six feet deep. The family’s relatives down the road run sawmills for their shed-building business so there are always lots of wood scraps available for stoking the fire. I think they have some system of mixing hardwood and softwood in a sequence, but I couldn’t quite pick up on the pattern of how they were loading wood into the firebox.
This is the preheater section to get the sap up from 35-40 degrees to 180-190 degrees. It is an improvement over the old-fashioned direct heating method because it captures heat from the steam exhaust stack and gives that otherwise lost energy a second go-round through a heat exchanger.
Here is the evaporator section. All the stainless steel and sanitary fittings are pricey, but they make the entire system much easier to clean than older tin evaporators. As the syrup progresses to the left, it becomes increasingly concentrated and closer to the point where it becomes…
…finished syrup. It was hard to get a clear shot with all the steam. From here it is transferred into 55 gallon stainless steel drums for storage.
Each day they bottle a small sample so later in the year they can cross-reference the color and grade to the barrels produced for a specific batch. Daily changes in temperature shift the characteristics. The bottles on the right are oldest. The sap started moderately dark, and has become lighter as the season has progressed. It will turn very dark in the next few weeks as the season winds down.