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Sap Moon: Maple Sugar Time

by Linda Conroy

The sap moon has arrived! I have been tapping trees since I relocated to Wisconsin from the Pacific Northwest. This is one of the perks I point to when my Northwest friends ask why I moved to the Midwest. I tell them that moving and having maple sap and syrup become one of my local wild foods is reason enough.

I started out as the orchestrator of an Urban Maple Sugaring Project in an urban community where I lived for over a decade. The project began with our my desire to learn about the process and add another wild food to my pantry. The project not only provided me with a learning opportunity and a connection to a wild food, it also provided my community with a locally produced sugar rich in mineral. For that project we tapped trees throughout the city with the permission of home and business owners. We shared some of the harvest with the people who supported the project. They of course enjoyed the syrup and learned that there is food right in their backyard!

The project also included collaboration with a local environmental center. The center evaporated the sap that we collected. The center has been tapping trees in their aging maple forest for many years. Their project is focused on providing a demonstration project for school groups and a community celebration of the harvest: Flap Jack Days. We helped to tend the sugar shack, lead tour groups, providing education and gave the center a percentage of the resulting syrup. After a long cold winter, we were always thrilled to participate in this community activity!

I have since moved to a different community and have a small number of trees on my property. I tap silver maples trees for my own use and education my apprentice students on how they can do this in their own community, or at their home.

It is late February as I write this and I have just tapped my 4 trees, putting in a total of 12 taps. This will provide me with sap for cooking and syrup for the upcoming year. The sap has been trickling, but has not started flowing yet.

It is ideal to tap trees just when the sap begins to run, as the resulting yield will be higher. The sap will begin to run when the daytime temperatures warm up above freezing. The last part of winter has been very cold winter here in Wisconsin and daytime temperatures have not yet reached above freezing, long enough for the sap to run.  As we watch, weather predictions show that the temperatures will begin to rise this upcoming  week.

I like to tap the trees when the sap begins running, so that we can drink the first sap of the season right from the tap. It is a such a remarkable site to see the sap run from the tree once you have placed the spile or maple spout. While today spiles are typically made from aluminum, the stalks of many shrubby plants can be used today and have historically been used. Two of those shrubs are staghorn sumac (Rhus sp) and/or elderberry (Sambucus sp). We have used commercial taps, as well as made some of our own.

As we begin collecting the sap, we will transform much of the beautiful mineral-rich sap into syrup for use throughout the year. The sap to syrup ratio is typically 40:1 but does fluctuate depending on many factors.

As we begin collecting the sap, we will transform much of the beautiful mineral rich sap into syrup for use throughout the year. The sap to syrup ratio is typically 40:1, but does fluctuate depending on many factors.

In addition to transforming the sap into syrup, we also use the sap, which looks like water, but adds slight sweet taste in other preparations. We also simply drink it. We like to use the sap as a base for tea and infusions. The sap adds minerals and a slight sweet taste to any beverage! We have partially reduced the sap and made maple soda as well as maple wine. These are some of the most delicious beverages and does not last long.

We also use the water as a base for cooking venison stew. The sugars in the sap, tenderize the meat. The stew meat melts in your mouth. Of course, you can use any meat that you have access to and your own stew recipe, just be sure to cook it slow, for a long period of time. I like to use the slow cooker or crock pot for this.

Cooking beans in sap, is something I learned from my dear friend Rose Barlow. Rose was an herbalist who was one of the inspirations for our sugaring project. She used to tap a couple of trees in her yard each year and she would make delicious maple beans.  While Rose died a couple of years ago, she is always present in my kitchen when I put the beans and syrup together in the pot. Below is my version of her wonderful Maple Bean Recipe.

Happy Sap Moon to all of you. May the change of the season be sweet and kind to each of you.

In Nourishment.

Maple Bean Recipe

These baked beans are slow-cooked in a crockpot for about 24 hours.  As the sap slowly cooks down it turns into a sweet, maple-flavored gravy.

4 cups dried navy beans (or any bean)

10 cups fresh maple sap

Bacon or other fatty piece of pork

1 Tbsp salt

2 medium onions, minced

1.     Soak beans in water overnight in water and a TBS of whey or miso as well as a piece of seaweed. If you do not have whey, miso, or seaweed, you can simply add salt.

2.     In the morning drain, put beans in a crockpot, and add 10 cups fresh maple sap. (if you are going to add bacon or pork, cook it on the stove, storing the grease for other uses. Add it when you begin cooking the beans and cook throughout, it will add additional flavor for those who enjoy meat.)

3.    3.  Turn crockpot on high and cook all day until beans are soft and tender. (if you prefer, you can also cook these down in the over on 175 degrees for the same time frame)

4.  Add diced onions and a little more maple sap if they seem a bit dry or low on liquid at this point.

5.  Continue to cook with the lid off of the crockpot overnight.

These freeze nicely for use throughout the year. They are delicious served at barbeques and/or potlucks!

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