Maple Syrup



With all the warmth this Winter has seen up until last week, we’ve been wondering about the upcoming sugaring season, expecting it to suck. We still have about a gallon of last year’s syrup left so I know we’ll be fine, but still. I like making it every year.

Ok, here’s where I pause, look back at what I wrote and feel guilty about any stretches of the truth. Seeing that last statement, “I like making it every year,” I need to admit to, not only a stretching of the truth, but the fact that I big, fat lied. I mean, I didn’t lie about the, “I like” part, but I lied about insinuating that I am the one making it. You see…usually, Keith taps the trees, and boils it down. Sometimes I carry the buckets. That is all.

So how is it, then, that I can say, “We make maple syrup?” (emphasis on the “We.” Hence the italics.) I’m sort of taking credit for all his efforts, aren’t I? I don’t know. Keith also says, “We made dinner” when he cooks the chicken and the rice and I do the salad. Why doesn’t he just take account for just his part by saying, “I made 2/3 of dinner?”

Team work, baby. It is our cozy house, our crazy dog, our cuddly cats (except for Betty. She is just a psycho bitch-cat who is possessed by the devil and is hell bent on making sure we do not sleep.) I’ve commented before in here, and in edible South Shore that we seem to be growing closer as a couple as we start this little homestead. Chores aren’t necessarily a bad thing. (DO NOT tell my mother I said that.) Doing them with someone you love makes the work go by that much faster. Enjoying the sweet spoils (over belgian waffles!) makes it all worthwhile.

I’ll carry all the sap buckets this year, honey. I promise.

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DaisyPatch Farm – Glog Post. Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since my last post.

Sorry for being gone so long. Life gets in the way of writing, no matter how good my intentions or my electronic to-do list with reminder alarms. I love writing this blog, however, so resolve to spend more time here. I suppose I should be able to do that considering it is April 1 and f’ing snowing outside. Not a small amount of snow, but a good covering of the thick slushy stuff too. Grr.

Really Mother Nature? I was going to rake the hay off the garden beds this weekend. (Hahahaha, I had a typo and almost raked the “gay” off the garden beds. How does one do that? Would I use a “gake?” Ok, ok, enough of that.) Anyway, where was I? Right, hay. So, as you probably have read in prior posts, because you are a DaisyPatch devotee and have read all my musings, you know we had 4+ feet of snow on the ground for most of the winter. Snow melts, pull back the frost blankets and lo and behold, lettuce. Alive. (Yes, I said, “lo and behold.” I know no one from the last few generations uses the phrase “lo and behold,” but I stand by my choice because I am an independent thinker and am ok in my own skin (she said defiantly, hands held on her hips in a Superman pose.))

Anyway, where was I? Right, lettuce. So, we have lettuce. And it is alive. It looks like crap, but it is alive. And we all know that we must put away our preconceived notions of pretty food when growing it ourselves and be ok with better, yet uglier food. So, what did I do with said lettuce? Yeah, it is still there and now we have more snow. Whatever. Now that I know it will withstand 4 feet of snow for 3 months, it can handle a goddamn weekend covered in a bit more snow whilst I stay inside in my snuggie and and read my first issue of Urban Farm (thanks big sis!)

Gake. God that’s funny.


My tree-tapping haiku…ahem…

Keith just tapped the trees

Forgetting to include me.

I still get syrup!

I love that we tap our own (and the good neighbor’s) Maple trees. I personally think the syrup tastes better. It has this “bright” flavor.

Ok, seriously, did you believe that? What does “bright” taste like? I’ve heard the tv chefs say that word as a descriptor when using anything green in a dish. Puh-leeze. Our syrup does have a distinctive flavor. Sort of like a tang. Not Tang, the orange-powder we grew up on strictly because the astronauts were pushers. (I just made myself giggle, although I have never touched the stuff, I did grow up in the 80’s and have watched movies and so just pictured a guy in an astronaut helmet using a razor to make orange lines of Tang on a mirror. C’mon, thats funny.)

Where was I? Right, syrup. It has only been three days since he drilled the holes in the Maples, installed the spout (tap) and hung the buckets, but, already, there’s only a few inches left before they overflow with sap. Have you tried sap? You know, the whole sugar-on-snow thing? I did once, at a sugar shack in Vermont in the Paul Bunyon days (be prepared for a weird bad hair experience if you visit a sugar shack when they’re boiling. It’s a big steam sauna with guys in plaid and shit-kicker boots, (MUCKS!)) Sugar-on-snow is overrated. You can’t really avoid getting forest scraps in the bowl when you scoop snow off the ground. Forest scraps are bug parts. No doubt about it. Then, the bug-part-flecked snow is drowned in water (sap) that, also, is full of black flecks. (What did I say those were? Riiiight.)

Mr. Flannel tells you (at least you think he’s telling you, if you understand him properly through the Vermont accent) it is supposed to be sweet and delicious. I didn’t taste anything sweet at all. Nothing. Maybe a chill on my filling, that was it.

Did I miss something? Was this some sort of experience that should have been more positive? Am I that much of a cynic that I blew the opportunity to enjoy an early Spring New England delicacy. Methinks not. I was eating a bowl of cold, slushy, bug parts. I kept that on the inside, but outwardly, I smiled at Mr. Flannel and said, “Thank you, how fun!”

Maybe I’ll try it again. If we can avoid the yellow snow created by Miss Daisy Mae.


My February doldrums haiku…ahem…

Have the stomach flu

I’ve been knitting and **ting

For the last 2 days

Yup. I thought I’d bring you, my gentle readers, into my hell.  The 6 foot high snow bank (no lie) is a bit shorter and there are actually patches of ground for DaisyMae to use as her “spot.” The wind today is pretty gusty and although it looked a bit nice out earlier, I, alas, have been stuck inside. This stomach bug is just not fun. Rice, ginger ale, water and saltines have been my chosen menu for about 46 hours while I stayed home from work yesterday (sparing my co-workers in my day job from my condition) and alternated between sleeping (having snoozed only 2 hours the night before) and knitting a new hat for myself and, well, just plain bitching about how crappy I feel.

I looked outside at our garden, still buried under about 3 feet of snow and wondered how soon it will be before I’m digging again. We had our sundried tomatoes in a neat little vegetarian dish last week. What will we be eating at this time next year (can you tell I have food on the brain? The bland diet is just so, what’s the word? Boring?) We plan to have the greenhouse completed, so will I finally be able to trudge out and pick greens even though it’s Winter? Will we have canned or frozen enough veggies to eat throughout the year? Gosh, I hope so. I like that we still have some things left in the pantry and freezer: 1/2 bottle of maple syrup; herbs; ketchup; tomato sauce; sundried tomatoes; garlic; green beans; carrots; shallots. I was hoping we’d be able to use our veggies in at least every home-cooked meal throughout the non-growing season. We’re not quite there (sometimes, you just crave spaghetti with parm and butter and nothing else), but we’re pretty close. To take my mind off my misery, I thought I’d share…here’s that neat little vegetarian dish (a bit modified from the original which was something we ate once and tried our best to copy).

(Without measurements. Use the force, Luke.) (There! She did it again. She stuck in a Star Wars reference in her gardening blog. HOW DOES SHE DO IT?)

Pie Crust for 2 pies

About a cup of sundried tomatoes, boiled until soft, then drained and pureed.

1 can of artichoke hearts (unmarinated). Drain and chop.

Roasted red peppers, chopped

Shredded mozzarella

1 container ricotta

Grated Parmesan

2 eggs

Heat oven to 350

Put 1 crust in pie plate for pie bottom.

Spread sundried tomato paste on bottom of crust

Mix ricotta with 1 egg, some ground pepper and some grated parm (you know, like lasagne) (We are low sodium here in the DaisyPatch household, so feel free to add a pinch of salt if your taste desires, but try it without, there’s enough flavor in here, you migh be able to skip it.)

Spread ricotta mixture on top of tomato paste.

Sprinkle (ok, pour) shredded mozzarella over ricotta.

Layer on chopped artichokes.

Layer on chopped red peppers (scarce, or you’ll be dying of heartburn 2 hours later, TRUST ME!)

More mozzarella (can you ever have too much?)

Put the other pie crust on top and, using the other egg that you’ve beaten with a fork (and called a few names because it doesn’t know its place and didn’t listen to you like good eggs should), brush the egg over the crust.

Bake in the oven until top is golden brown.

Enjoy while I go make myself some rice. (OH! and Keith just poured himself some of our favorite wine! This is torture.)

~By the way, you can subscribe to this blog if you like. I won’t mind. This way, when I update, it will get emailed to you. I don’t sell the email addresses or anything.


Current DaisyPatch stats:  1 gallon maple syrup, 199 plants, 0 mushrooms and I started the Edamame this morning. Wish us luck with that.

**

Things have been a bit crazy. Our friend, Popper, invited us to dinner last week. He’s planning to open a deli/local food marketplace in Dover in the next few months which is very exciting for him. Funny, I am usually detail oriented, but the days up to the dinner were very rushed and I didn’t even get to read the directions to where we were having dinner until our car was speeding a mile a minute in the rain. (New Hampshire has been seeing record rainfall amounts, the President just declared disaster relief funds due to all the flooding.) Keith was driving while I was juggling my blackberry and using the travel lint-rolleron my Daisy-hair-covered black pants.

Dinner was fantastic. For appetizers, Popper laid out some Mortadella, Summer Sausage and Proscuitto along with some homemade bread slices and yummy cheese. There were some unique beers and about 8 bottles of wine (glad we brought one, my mother said to never arrive empty-handed). At this old NH farmstead, they raised pig, chicken, duck, and I think I heard turkey and guinea fowl. Give me a glass of wine and an audience and I’m just fine so while snacking and trying to not look like I was inhaling the food (that proscuitto was to die for) we learned about the other dinner guests.

This was a crowd I could relate to, or aspire to relate to. Several grew their own food and had read my two fave food-movement books, Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle so there was plenty to discuss. One was a food writer and the other a web designer. Two were chefs (one of whom was Popper). All were good folk. I admired the frut-and-flower-covered lemon and lime trees in the living room and chatted with Maria, the homeowner, and got some growing tips.

The dinner was to die for. Confit-stuffed farm-raised chicken, rustic bread, vegetable Quark, roasted parsnips, a delish rice dish and chocolate/bacon ice cream. Let me break it all down for you. I thought it would have been rude to take pictures of the meal, so I’ll do my best to describe it (see if I have what it takes to be a food writer myself…)

First, the chicken. The white meat was obviously pounded, then stuffed with the most moist, flavorful duck stuffing, rolled up and cooked. It was juicy when I cut it, and I didn’t need a knife. The stuffing had an earthy, twinge-the-back-of-the-jaw taste that can only be described as Umami. Let’s take a side-road for a second and describe Umami, the story of Umami and how it came to be in my vocabulary – not necessarily in that order.

Remember in school, we were taught the senses of taste? Bitter, sweet, salty, sour. Can you see the drawing of the tongue with the locations of each taste buds? I can remember, I think it was in Ms. Black’s 4th grade. (Ms. Black’s name changed from Mrs. BiglongnamethatbeginswithD to Ms. Black sometime in the middle of the school year. I guess I also learned about divorce while  learning about the senses of taste.) Well, in 1908, a Japanese scientist discovered a 5th sense of taste called Umami. It is the sense of Savory. Keith and I discovered it quite by accident.

We attended a destination wedding in the Albany, New York area a few years ago. In our room were menus to local restaurants. One of the restaurants was called Umami Cafe. The Truffle Mac and Cheese caught Keith’s eye. We ordered take out via the phone and I went to the restaurant to pick up our order. I called a few minutes before closing and they were nice enough to put in the order for me. I waited in the lobby area while it was being prepared and, as is my nature, I sought something to read. (I’ll read anything. I once read everything on a  jar of Comet – ingredients and all. Don’t think I’m strange, this bathroom had no reading material and it was the only thing under the counter that was within reach.)

The restaurant menu explained the history of Umami and how it is used in all the foods at the restaurant. Umami can be described as  savory, meatiness, brothiness or “mommy food,” meaning, “comfort food.” We LOVED the Truffled Mac and Cheese. I have since purchased The Fifth Taste cookbook  as well as some truffle oil – an expensive splurge.

I hope you enjoyed my little scenic detour. Back to the main road – the dinner. The bread was obviously homemade and cut into slices on to which I spread generous amounts of the thick, cottagy quark. (I doubt “cottagy” is a word, but it wasn’t creamy, it was like super, super thick cottage cheese, hence “cottagy.” Don’t fight me, just go with it.  Accept “cottagy” into your life.) Oh look, honey, another scenic route, this time to “Cottagy Quark.”  Can we go see what’s there? Yes, dear.

I discovered Quark at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market last Summer. One of the famers, I am so sorry I do not remember which one as I would like to give credit, had Quark. It looked like chunky cream cheese. It was “cottagy.” One was herbed and the other was plain. They had it out for sampling. Yuh-umm. Quark is an un-aged fresh curd cheese. It is much lower in fat than cottage cheese, but to me, had that nice little sour bite that cream cheese has.  I bought a jar, (wait, 9 bucks!, oh, jar deposit) and brought it home. Keith didn’t want any. All for me. I brought that jar back during a market visit a few weeks later and picked up some more. I didn’t try to cook with it, I just spread it on low-sodium Ritz crackers. Gosh, I could have lived on low-sodium Ritz and Quark last Summer. I think I’m going to try to make Quark this year.

Meanwhile, back at dinner, (please tell me if you read that in your best Ted Knight voice I need to know I am not alone), I have to fill you in on the rice. I can not accurately describe the rice dish. I think it was Forbidden Rice. I am unsure, but will definitely be asking for the recipe. The rice was black/purple and had popped open during cooking. I think it was made in a risotto style. Here’s what I know was in it – duck fat, thyme and crisped chicken skin.  It was so flavorful and so savory and just damned bloody good. (I am not british and I do not mean there was blood in it, but the term “bloody good” seemed very appropriate right there.) Keith made chicken for dinner last night and I saved the skin from mine. It is crisping in the oven right now. I can’t eat it just yet due to restricted diet, more on that later.

Parsnips. I never met a parsnip I liked. Yuck and double yuck. Bitter (thanks Ms. Black, I know what that means), awful stuff. What person in his/her right mind would Eh-VER eat a parsnip? Dare I say my tastes are changing as I get older (gracefully) or were previously attempted parsnips not cooked correctly? Methinks both. I tentatively put two small ones on my plate in that, “I guess I should be polite and try everything since I am at someone else’s house and they made me dinner but if I put just one it’ll look like I don’t like it and am just being polite, so I had better put two, but I’ll make them small ones so they’re less conspicuous” sort of  fashion. They were whole and off-white, looking like a carrot that didn’t get any sun. Butter and a little rosemary can make styrofoam packing peanuts palatable, and neither were detected in the serving dish, increasing my sense of dread.

I have gotten more adventurous in the last few years when it comes to new food. About 12 years ago, I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian.  While wandering in the bookstore for something completely unrelated, I saw a book with a title akin to, “So, You’re Thinking About Becoming a Vegetarian?”, bought it and went cold turkey. No turkey, actually, and that was the problem. I stopped after 6 months – I just wasn’t getting it right. I didn’t like a lot of vegetables and I really missed turkey. I would say that now, I could be a successful vegetarian if I wanted to be, since I have tried and learned to like many different kinds of vegetables, but I don’t plan on it.  Turkey and I can never be parted again.

I hope you’re still with me, we’re talking about dreaded parsnips. Here goes. I loved them and went back for more. I can’t explain them. They were sweet. Not as sweet as cooked carrots, but a nice mild sweetness with a tone of what can only be described as earthy. It is obvious the trick is in the preparation. If you know a good parsnip recipe, please share. They will be on the DaisyPatch this year.

Onto the ice cream. The latest bacon craze has people putting bacon in everything. Keith saw a t-shirt that said, “Bacon is the new Jesus.” (Actually, I think the shirt will be arriving in the mail any day.) I think it is true. Maxim magazine (we get it for the articles) mentions a new bacon product every now and then, including bacon-flavored lollipops. We bought bacon band-aids for our friend, Jenny. Her gifts get wrapped in bacon-printed gift wrap. Get it? Having Popper for a good friend means that sausage and bacon, the good stuff, not the sodium-laden, bacon-favored, sizzle strips sold in your megamart, but the real stuff from a local chemical-free pig, is in our larder at all times. Yup, I said larder. Homestead word. Just trying it on for size.

This ice cream sounded weird, but then I thought about it. Insert bacon thought bubble.

My chocolate chip cookies have sweet milk chocolate chips in them. What brings out the sweetness of the chocolate? That extra pinch of kosher salt that I add. Why should it be any different in this ice cream? Picture tasting the duskiest, most chocolatey cocoa you’ve ever tried. Put that in a frozen sweet cream base. Now, at the exact moment that flavor is being deposited from the spoon into your mouth and you’re detecting the sweetness, you can sense, I thought I smelled it before I tasted it, the smoke from a bbq. Then, the saltiness from miniscule bits of bacon hit you, while your sweet taste receptors are still going off. (Despite what Ms. Black told us, you don’t just taste sweet on the front of your tongue, there are taste receptors for all senses throughout your mouth.) The saltiness, the smoky aroma, the dark, almost savory, chocolate and the sweet cream all mixed together into a little tiny dish of delight. I was not given enough, but after my gluttony with the rice dish, did not ask for more. The ice cream was paired with a little ginger shortbread cookie. It was good, but only got in the way really. I had to eat it just to get it out of the dish so my spoon could attempt to scrape up more of the ice cream.

This meal from heavenfarm occured one week ago today and I am still thinking about it. It is easy for me to understand why that is. I had my gall bladder taken out a few days ago, am home recovering and am restricted to a low-fat, bland diet (read: boring) during recovery. I asked the surgeon during the pre-surgery consult (which is basically the meeting where you hear all the ways you’re going to die on the table, then sign a sheet of paper to acknowledge you understand these risks), “Did I do this to myself? Did I eat wrong?” (thinking the Summer of Quark and Ritz sent my little gall bladder over the edge). He assured me that, no, gall bladder disease and gall stones are hereditary and quite common and I didn’t inflict this upon myself through my diet. I repeated this to myself during the farmstead dinner which was 36 hours before surgery. Perhaps the fact I knew I’d be in for flavorless meals for the next few weeks made me savor and appreciate every bite that much more.

I think it was more than that.  It wasn’t just the delicious new foods and flavors. It was new friends, new stories, and a newfound camaraderie as we all were there for one reason – to support our friend, Popper, and to support the idea that good food can come from our backyards.

***

Since you hung in this long, with only one picture, and a stupid one at that, here’s a little treat. Make sure you have the volume way up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTa3kfu4iRM


We’ve been busy on the DaisyPatch homestead. The heat mats in the basement are making seedlings pop up very quickly (4 days for the Husk Cherries to germinate, whereas last year it took weeks without that heat mat!) We started some Arugula and Mache microgreens as well as the tomatoes, husk cherries,  peppers, and poppies we started. I look forward to trying those. The sap buckets are 1/2 full and were only tapped 3 days ago. Keith picked up the plastic for the greenhouse and we are planning a barn raising as soon as the weather permits (3 days of freezing rain expected on the Seacoast starting…ok, just looked outside…starting NOW) AND, we have signs of life outside.

Catnip

Snowy Oregano

I may make some Catnip/Oregano tea just to say, “I grew it.” Maybe not, that sounds gross.

Betty the cat ate all the Catnip I picked after taking this picture, then, she slept all day. She’s allowed, she’s 15. That’s not a bad idea. I deserve a little rest, too, don’t I? Small private vow, the first salad we eat from our greens, I’m going to have it with a cup of Catnip tea and then take a nap. Now that sounds pretty nice.


It was 50 degrees yesterday and definitely time to taple the maple tree. Last year, Keith surprised me by all of a sudden being knowledgeable in how to do this. He accelerated from zero to farmer almost overnight. I came home from the day job to 2 taps on the maple tree just outside the front door.

 

Hold my hand as I take you into the way back files and relive my early memories of making maple syrup. Don’t be scared, I’m right here with you.

My parents moved to a very small town (no stop lights and no neon signs allowed per town ordinance) in Vermont when I was one month into my Freshman year of high school. Vermont is Maple Syrup country. These people take it seriously. Any February, as you drive to  and from, you can look into the woods and see, not buckets, but miles and miles of tubing. These tubes are hooked onto the tree taps and gravity moves the sap to a large collection container which is then picked up and brought to the sugar house for boiling.

One year, my Dad decided to tap the sugar maple at the back of our property. The tree was huge and had never been tapped. He gathered a lot of sap. Having just an electric stove in the kitchen, he put the sap in the largest pot we had and put in on the bbq grill and commenced the boiling process. He forgot about it and came to check on it hours later, only discovering a big lump of burned, black sugar, like coal, stuck to the bottom of the pot. I don’t recall if the pot could be saved. It smelled awful, but he got an “A” for effort. Making Maple Syrup experience #1.

Several years later, I was living in Townsend, VT. I rented a beautiful post and beam home from a couple who decided to pack their truck, load up their Husky and travel the country for a few years. They needed someone to watch the house and the Alaskan Malamutes. (To keep you coming back to the DaisyPatch, I will tease you that someday, I will share the story about me defending these dogs from a pack of wild coyotes wearing nothing but a bathrobe and brandishing a Ruger rifle.)

The home-owner’s parents lived next door (which, in this area of Vermont, was a mile or so down the road) and ran a sugaring operation. I got to see the whole process. I put on the shit-kicker boots, hitched the dogs to their leashes and let them drag me to the sugar house. (You don’t walk Alaskan Malamutes, they walk you. Their owner used to have them drag her on a dogsled. I didn’t have the courage to try that while they were in my care, I should have.)

The folks were very nice. The sugar shack was basically a shed with a big-ass wood stove and a large steaming vat in the middle of the room where the sap boiled. My glasses fogged up and my hair instantly frizzed. They had me try sugar-on-snow for the very first time. I would like to get romantic here (dare I say, ‘sappy’?) and tell you that it was at that moment I knew I’d want to make maple syrup one day. Not true. Sugar-on-snow was wet snow. There was nothing special about it. Try as I might, I couldn’t taste the sugar in the sap that was drizzled over a snowball. I was polite, however, and appropriately, “Mmm”ed and “Yumm”ed as they watched my face during my first taste. I remember looking cautiously at the black flecks that had been in the sap and were now sitting on top of the wet snowy mushball they had prepared for me and were now making me eat.  All I could think was, “Bug parts.” Making Maple Syrup experience #2.

So, when Keith tapped the tree last year, I was like, “Eh, whatever.” Now, however, I love it. Keith watched a video on YouTube and did some research to reinforce what he already knew about how syrup was made from sap. When all was said and done, he got about a gallon of syrup. I have to say, it tastes better than any syrup I’ve tasted. It has a maplysyrupy taste, but after you swallow, the finish is very green – fresh – outdoorsy. Like a fresh cut lawn. We gave some away and kept some in the freezer. I had some this AM on my pancakes. I will debate with anyone that there isn’t much better in this world than homemade pancakes with homemade syrup. Making Maple Syrup experience #3 was way better than the other two. Maybe it’s because it’s our trees and it’s Keith making the syrup. A little bit of love always makes pancakes taste better.

So, Roy and Jen came over yesterday afternoon and we made a little ceremony about tapping the tree.

About 3-4 feet up from the base of the tree, drill a hole. Slant the hole upwards a bit.

Roy doing the honors

 Then, insert the spout.

 You can see the hook hanging off the spout. That’s where the bucket hangs.

 Next, pop on the bucket.

The maple tree split at the bottom, so it is basically 2 trees. Jen and I did the next one and we’re going to have a little competition about the guy’s tree against the girl’s tree. Fun with maple syrup.

This was all yesterday. Today, Keith tapped three of the good neighbor’s trees and we’re off and running. When Daisy and I went out today, I could hear the plink plink of sap dripping into the metal buckets. It was a good sound. It meant self-sufficiency, it meant friendship, it meant there were pancakes in our future.