One of the very few things I am missing about my snowed in home in Conesville this March, is the opportunity to make some maple syrup in my backyard. I have become a maple syrup junkie the past year or so, since I have discovered that it is the perfect sweetener for my morning coffee. I like my coffee light and sweet. Previously I accomplished this by adding a packet of aspartame and about one quarter of a cup of two percent milk. I have come to the conclusion that artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, make me hungry. This epiphany is partly based on statistics, which show that people who use artificial sweeteners tend to be far more obese than those who use sugar.
For many years I found this hard to believe. I thought that avoiding 140 to 200 calories a day, by simply substituting fake, no calories, sugar for the real thing would eventually lead to me losing weight. It requires 3,200 calories to gain a pound, so reducing caloric intake by only 3,200 calories in my coffee alone, should result in losing a pound in three weeks or so, all other factors being equal. Well, apparently “all other factors” have far more to do with this than I thought. Ten years of this therapy and I am as fat as ever.
We have all been told by health experts that refined white sugar is practically poison and should be avoided. That may or may not be true, but it is true that maple syrup is mostly sugar, about two-thirds sucrose, which is table sugar. Organic acids, the most notable one being malic acid, make the syrup slightly acidic.
Not many minerals
Maple syrup has a relatively low mineral content, consisting largely of potassium and calcium, but also contains nutritionally significant amounts of zinc and manganese. Maple syrup does not make my coffee taste like maple. It just makes it taste delicious! I think that Heather Ridge Farm is offering a cooking class featuring maple syrup this weekend. Go to their webpage for details.
Pure maple syrup is also expensive to buy. I am paying about $10 a pint for it at my local supermarket, but since I am now officially a senior citizen, on Medicare, awaiting my impending death in sunny Florida, like all of us snowbirds, I feel justified in indulging myself. I am also substituting heavy cream in my coffee for two percent milk. Instead of one quarter cup of two percent milk, I use about one tablespoon of heavy cream and it also makes my coffee taste so much better. I have not gained or lost any weight at all, as a result of this bad behavior, but that too, is less important now than it was years ago. Time and gravity will inevitably trump youth and exercise.
The reason maple syrup is so expensive is because it takes lots of energy to boil away most of the water in maple sap. It takes about 10 gallons of sap to yield about one quart of syrup, which translates into a ratio of about 40 to 1. Commercial maple syrup producers often will run the sap through what is known as a reverse osmosis machine. Osmosis is “a process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thus equalizing the concentrations on each side of the membrane.”
This is approximately how odors seem to disperse. The smell of onions or garlic tends to dissipate in the kitchen as fresh air enters the room and dilutes the smell. Reverse osmosis machines filter out water from the sap, while allowing the sugars to remain by using energy to force the sap through a semipermeable membrane. The sap still needs to be boiled down to concentrate the sugars, but not nearly as much as raw sap from the tree.
Backyard maple syrup makers usually use some sort of flat pan to boil the sap outside to avoid steaming up a kitchen. Nine and three-quarters gallons of water makes a lot of steam and it takes a lot of fossil fuel to create it. Most backyarders use firewood. Any well seasoned firewood will do, including pine, spruce and softwoods that are not so desirable for use indoors in your wood stove. The goal is to make a hot, raging fire that will boil the sap as quickly as possible.
For many years I have used the same old, galvanized washtub to boil the sap, but professionals use almost all stainless steel equipment to avoid getting any lead into the final product. Lead is, of course, toxic to humans and especially to young children. Next week I will talk about the specific procedure to make some of this golden elixir using recycled materials for the most part.