Monday, April 2, 2018

Maple Syrup Season 2018 and a Taste Test


We didn't do maple syrup last year because Romie and I both went to Mexico to see the monarch butterflies as they overwintered there. That trip hit right smack in the middle of sap collecting, so we decided to just not do it. Oh, how we missed that wonderful homemade maple syrup!

I went to Mexico again this year, once again in the middle of sap collecting, but Romie was home, so he gathered it while I climbed a few mountains. I have to thank our daughter, Kara, for her help after I got home, because after one day to recover and repack, Romie and I both went to Florida for a week to visit my aunt and uncle. It truly takes a family to make this stuff.

This year, though we didn't keep track of how many gallons of sap we collected from our silver maple trees, we ended up with about three quarts of syrup. We would have had a little bit more (maybe a cup or so), had I not burned one small batch to a crisp. I blame Romie for this a teeny tiny bit, because we only had a small amount of sap, and he talked me into boiling it against my better judgement.

When you boil sap, it's always better to do a large batch at one time, because when it gets right down to the last few minutes of boiling, the sap can either turn to sugar or burn. Just. Like. That. With a larger batch, you have more play with it. I'm not sure why that is, but it just is. I didn't forget it, I just needed to check it in a few minutes rather than ten. Lesson learned!

This year, I used a hydrometer part of the time, for testing when the sap was of the right consistency for syrup. You pour the sap into a cylinder and then float the hydrometer in it. It's marked with red lines, and you want your sap to be thick enough for the surface of the sap to fall between the red lines. After a few seasons of doing this, I think it's just as easy to eyeball it.



Every year I make this, there are always a few who say to me, "Please keep some back for me." I cringe when I hear that, because there's no way we could do that for everyone who asks.  We can't even do it for a few, since it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. With that ratio, you can see how much sap it takes to make a small amount and just how time consuming making syrup is. There's a reason it costs so much when you buy it in the store.

I'm kind of like fellow blogger Karen Bertelsen (The Art of Doing Stuff) when it comes to this. When someone asks her for some of her maple syrup when she's done making it, she answers, "Sure!" and then promptly forgets. She does put a couple of small bottles back just in case she needs to reward someone for doing her an extraordinary favor. And I'm not entirely selfish. A few of our bottles make their way to new homes, too.

This year I splurged and purchased special bottles for our maple syrup.
You can buy them here.

Back to this year's syrup making. The season always takes me by surprise. It starts just about the time I've had it with winter and am dreaming of crocus and daffodils and spring peepers. But I don't think I've ever gotten the spiles put into the maples early enough to get absolutely all the sap we could get.

When the maple buds look like this, maple syrup is drawing to a close.

The sap starts running towards the end of winter, when the temperatures are below freezing at night and above freezing during the day.  There are a lot of days like that between the end of January and when the maple trees start budding out. That's when the sap stops flowing, or at least stops being clear (instead of cloudy or dark). This year, we began collecting sap on February 9th and collected the last of it on March 21st.

A taste test

I haven't purchased real maple syrup since we started making our own, but this year, I heard about a brand that has gotten rave reviews and came to light as a result of being on Shark Tank. Parker's Maple Syrup didn't get the deal on the show, but it still helped the company just by being on the show. I bought some because I wanted to see how ours tasted in comparison.

The tin of Parker's arrived last week and when I tasted it, I sort of cringed. It wasn't cheap and I didn't like it. I bought the Grade A Robust, which is essentially the same grade as ours. But ours had a pure and strong maple syrup taste, without the smoky, somewhat burnt taste to it. Parker's had somewhat the same taste as Kirkland brand maple syrup I purchased from Costco a few years ago. I just don't like that scorched taste.

Our maple syrup is on the left.


I may have mentioned before that I'm a supertaster. This means, among other things, that I detect bitterness more than the average person. My tastebuds have receptors that many people's don't. My husband didn't think it tasted burnt at all. Okay, good, honey. You can have the Parker's then, and I'll just stick with ours, if you don't mind.

We also did a taste test with maple syrup made by the brother of our son-in-law. The semi-blind taste test involved five different syrups: Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup (not real maple syrup), ours, the brother's, a local commercial producer's,  and Parker's. Seven people tasted the five syrups and the results were incredibly varied. Three of the seven preferred our syrup over the others, and more than half rated Parker's the worst, even worse than Mrs. Butterworth's.

Do you have a favorite maple syrup brand? I've not found any that I like as much as ours. ❤






Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Celebrating National Learn About Butterflies Day - A Giveaway!


Although any day is a good day to eat pie (I'll take Dutch apple, please!), March 14th is designated National Pie Day. Actually, it's "Pi" day – the day we honor the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. This unique number in math never ends.

So far, it's been calculated to 22.4 trillion digits with no pattern repeats, and named for the Greek letter π. We usually say pi equals 3.14, so that's why March 14th has been chosen as the day to celebrate this imaginary number. (This might help you understand imaginary numbers. Or not.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi

Now you understand why we are all eating pie today.

Today is also National Learn About Butterflies Day. That, I can get into, even more than pie. These days, I'm spending a good deal of time sharing information about butterflies, specifically, the monarch butterfly.

https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-learn-about-butterflies-day-march-14/


Monarchs are unique among their kind. They do things that no other butterflies do. You know, like travel up to 3000 miles to a place they've never been before – a very specific place – the same place their ancestors have gone for thousands of years.

Cerro Pelon monarch sanctuary, February 22, 2018

I just returned from visiting three of the monarch sanctuaries in Central Mexico, where these beautiful butterflies go to wait out the winter until it's time for them to make the return trip north. (They're heading north now!) As I stood high on the mountains in the sanctuaries (around 10,000 feet above sea level), I considered this insect and its story. I thought about just what it took for each of those thousands and thousands of monarchs to get to where they were at that very moment.

El Rosario monarch sanctuary, February 21, 2018

If you don't know about the unique life cycle (including the migration) of the monarch, you're missing one of nature's most fascinating phenomenons. I suggest that you pick up a copy of my book, THE MONARCH: Saving Our Most-Loved Butterfly, to learn about it. At a current price of $12.88 on Amazon, this 160-page hardcover book is a bargain, packed with facts, anecdotal stories, projects, plant and predator information, and resources for learning even more.


http://amzn.to/2pb3nYl


Today, in honor of National Learn About Butterflies day, I'm giving away one signed copy of my book. All you need to do is leave a comment on at least one of these places:


On this coming Sunday night, March 18, 2018, at midnight EDT, a random winner will be chosen from all the entries. You can enter on all three locations, which will increase your chances of winning, but only three total entries are permitted per person.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/FolioandFocusCo
If you don't want to take your chances on this giveaway, signed copies of THE MONARCH are also available for purchase in my Etsy shop, Folio and Focus Co. Signed copies of my first book, Indoor Plant Decor: The Design Stylebook For Houseplants, are also available, as well as a unique handmade butterfly bracelet (only one left!).


Enter to win now, and then go have a piece of pie.

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CONGRATULATIONS to Gail for winning the signed copy of my book! And thank you to all who entered here and on Facebook.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Niki Jabbour's VEGGIE GARDEN REMIX - Win One!


One of the best things about gardening is that there is an unlimited choice of things to grow. We tend to grow those things that we love, year after year, but it's always fun to try something new, too.

In 2008, I grew a lot of purple veggies. This
is Phaseolus vulgaris 'Purple Queen'.
One year, I decided to grow purple veggies. Researching what vegetables came in purple, I was surprised to find out how many there were. I already knew about eggplant and cabbage, of course, but there was also sweet corn, okra, potatoes, “green” beans, carrots, kohlrabi, lettuce, and several others.

Seeds were purchased and planted, and my purple vegetable garden was born.

When I would talk about my purple veggie garden, the number one question I got was, “Do the purple ones taste the same as the regular colored ones?” And the answer was yes. There was no discernible difference, other than slight variations you would expect from one cultivar to another, independent of color.

Besides being fun to do, I learned something along the way. Those purple beans magically turned green when they were cooked! We called them our magic beans.

For all of you adventurous gardeners, there's a new book that will have you salivating at all the wonderful and quirky choices available for growing. Niki Jabbour, star of growing year round, even though she lives in Nova Scotia, and author of bestselling The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, has written a fun new book – Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix.


http://amzn.to/2ClZ6Fh


This book is like looking at a catalog of 224 choices of a wide variety of edibles that you may not have thought about growing or may not have even known existed! But better than a plant catalog, Niki shares growing tips, plant origins, how and when to plant and harvest, different ways to use them, and a host of other information.

If your vegetable garden has become a little ho-hum, or you've lost a little enthusiasm for gardening in general, Niki's book can jump start it all again. How can you get bored growing things with names like 'Poona Kheera' (cucumber) and 'Orange Jelly' (turnip). I'm not a turnip fan, but ORANGE JELLY!

A carrot in parentheses!

I can think of no better way to begin this year's garden than flipping through this book and making a list of seeds that will elevate my veggie-growing space to stellar star status. It's like how I used to go through the Sears Christmas catalog the day it came and I made a list of all the toys I wanted. That was such fun, too.

We've been doing the Blue Apron thing for over a year now, and we've been introduced to some foods that we might otherwise not have known about. We found new foods to love, including some you'll find in Niki's book.



Win a copy of Veggie Garden Remix!

http://amzn.to/2CmqhQr

I was sent a complimentary copy of Niki's book and you could win a copy of your own! 

Just comment on this blog post by midnight, EST, on Sunday, February 25, 2018. One random commentor will get a copy of Niki Jabbour's Veggie Garden Remix sent to them from her publisher, Storey Books. Be sure to indicate how you'd like for me to contact you, in case you're the winner.



Good luck!

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Niki Jabbour is the award-winning author of Niki Jabbours Veggie Garden Remix, The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener, and Groundbreaking Food Gardens. Her work is found in Fine Gardening, Garden Making, Birds & Blooms, Horticulture, and other publications, and she speaks widely on food gardening at events and shows across North America. She is the host and creator of The Weekend Gardener radio show. She lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is online at nikijabbour.com.




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