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Making Maple Sugar

We have successfully bucketed our way through another sugaring season!  YAY!!!

As we wrap up the end of our maple syruping season, we ventured into a new dynamic–Maple Sugar!!!  All I can say is WOW! as I am still marveling at the magic of making maple sugar.  I have to admit, however the prospect of making maple sugar, was slightly terrifying.  After all, taking an entire quart of liquid gold, aka maple syrup, and heating it up fifty or so degrees above the boiling point was enough to make me sweat, without the steam evaporating out of the pot!  I thought for sure I would burn or scorch it, and it would all end up in the garbage, not even the chicken bucket, lest their little beaks would stick together…and me huddled on the dirty floor in the corner of the kitchen lying in a puddle of very salty tears.  Well, it’s safe to say none of that had to happen, because let’s face it, no one wants to see that.

It turns out that making maple sugar is actually not that hard, just intimidating.  My thoughts of burning liquid and sugars were unfounded.  Somehow, I just could not get my mind to bend around the idea that syrup could, and definitely would, quite by a magical process turn into dried crystallized sugar.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew that it was POSSIBLE, but I thought it perhaps, beyond the scope of my powers.  I must admit, my magic wand has been out of order for a long time now.  But alas, fear not, no magic wand needed, the scientific process of vaporization shall work said magic for you.

We followed the process for making maple sugar, here.  This link gives wonderful step-by-step photos and instruction, it took the guess work right out of the process.  (Although it was a little hard to believe, until I actually went through the process myself!)  The actual instructions come right out of The North American Maple Syrup Producers’ Manual–page 188.  A pretty reputable source, I might say.  Click on over and check out the process, you will be glad you did.

After making maple sugar myself, all I can say, is it’s a very amazing process.  Once you have reach 260 degrees, brought your syrup into a hard candy stage, and pour it into the mixer, the taffy-like consistency fools you into believing that you may have messed up, but just as you are thinking that, the mysterious mixture starts to change consistency, begins to look grainy, and then suddenly in a burst of sweet maple steam, the water vaporizes right on out of the mixture…POOF!

Like magic.

The sugar crystals then form, you continue stirring in the mixer, until the steam subsides, then pour the warm sugar onto a cookie sheet to cool the rest of the way.  I continue to stand in awe and amazement, at the process of making maple sugar.  It was not a difficult process, and one that heeds results that are out of this world.  The taste and texture of maple sugar are outstanding.  It is at once, delicate and bold, melts deliciously in your mouth, and leaves you with none of that refined sugar ick that comes with eating regular white sugar.  Maple sugar is, in a word, satisfying.

It is whole and robust, and I am pleased to announce that even after consuming copious amounts, one is not left wanting for more.  There are no sugar shakes, no carb crash, no familiar ill effects that usually accompany sugar consumption.  You can thank me later, for researching that for you’all.

Making maple sugar will become a tradition in our home, leading us to need a few more taps next year!!!  I encourage you to try it, if you have been intimidated by the process, the results are quite magical on the tongue, and definitely does not live up the amount of trepidation that I had for the process.

Fear of the unknown, most of the time is unwarranted… So be brave, be bold, make maple sugar.

Your family will thank you, and oh! You may want to carve a big stick, or a sturdy wooden spoon to keep all the fingers out of the sugar dish!!!! ;)

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Cookin’ With Love

I thought it would be fun to share some photos of our maple syrup cookin’ set up and operation this year.  As you may, or may not recall, we relied on our outdoor cook stove/summer kitchen setup for last years mapling season.  It worked great, and was a good starting place, but was not without a few drawbacks.  The biggest of which was the fact that we had to split all our wood down to kindling size, to keep the fire hot enough to keep our sap in a rolling boil in our chilly Northern Minnesota clime.  Until you split the sheer volume of kindling that was needed, you really have no idea….The boys split wood like troopers and we had more than enough to cook the sap for the season and then some, but as this year drew closer, there were logistic and engineering dreams of a bigger wood box.  Another reason to try another set-up, was just the sheer amount of time and attention needed to feed the beast, so to speak.  I am of course referring to the fire itself.  With such a small firebox there were days, when it was hard to run to the biffy and keep your boil.  Enough said.

With that in mind, my hardworking hubby, who is also chief engineer of the homestead, found and retrofitted an old cast aside from yesteryear, cabin stove that was rusting in the bushes somewhere.  Perfect.  Investment once again $0.  That is important to us on our homestead.  Everything we do, we first look at what we can use that we already have, what we can find, or what we can make-do with. What can I say?  One man’s trash, really is another man’s treasure.  ;)

This year’s setup is working pretty good, so far.  It too, is not without want for improvement, but we are getting there.  With another season underway, we are getting a pretty good feel for what our ideal setup looks like, and no, we are not there yet, but we are getting closer!!!

As always, we are enjoying our time working together as a family, and cookin’ with love, in the great outdoors!!!

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The boys have been enjoying a new found passion these past few weeks.  Woodcarving.  Woodcarving is a folk art, steeped in tradition.  Almost every culture has their own form of woodcarving, and it is fascinating to explore the ancient world of carving.   Besides, as you know, anything that is sharp and dangerous, has a wonderful daring appeal to boys. ;)  Just kidding!  In all seriousness though, my boys have taken to woodcarving like fish to water.  They are thoroughly enjoying the process, it is very cathartic for hands-on kiddos.


The process of going into the woods with waiting knives on belts, hunting for just the right branch for a given project, elicits excitement and sparkle in their eyes.  Carefully considering, finding and selecting the wood that speaks to them, as I watch them run hands and eyes over branches, makes me wonder if they are really the ones selecting the piece, or if the wood calls to them, their hearts, their hands.  Either way, it makes me smile, and feel honored and blessed to bear quiet witness in the process.


They are starting with simple projects, a wooden boat, spear, knife, and as they grow in confidence and wisdom of the craft, have dreams of little wooden bowls and spoons, and a even animal figurines.  They are excited about the prospects and talk nonstop about all the exciting things that they can make with sparkling eyes.


A good knife is essential to the process.  After some research we chose the Mora of Sweden Craft Knife, the model called, “Woodcarving Knife for Children”.  It features a removable guard, with a carbon steel blade, and a wooden handle.  In the catalog it is described as ‘just the right size’ for smaller hands, and it is.   This knife would work well for me, too!  I now have one of my own on my wish list!  At first I was concerned that the knife might be too small for my bigger boys, but that is not the case, I think that it is actually just the right size for beginners, you would not want it any bigger, in my humble observers of beginners opinion.  We have no previous woodcarving experience, so I am by far an expert, but just from watching them all manipulate the knife with ease, the size, the length of blade and heft feel just right in their hands.  It has been a joyful learning experience for us all, and we look forward to how this craft will grow along with the hands and knowledge of the apprentice carvers.


After much searching, this is where we ordered our woodcarving knives through. Our experience with Ragweed Forge was nothing but superb.  It is an ‘old-fashioned’ for lack of better words, website where you complete your order form yourself.  Similar to just simply ordering from a paper catalog.  When your order is shipped you will receive a personal email from Ragnar to let you know your knives are on the way.  Our order was shipped the day we placed it, and it arrived within two days.  I was extremely impressed.  It was quick, and personal, and it felt nice to have been treated with a little old fashioned kindness and courtesy.  You forget, until you experience it again, how nice that really does feel.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, that Ragnar only charges a $6.00 flat-rate shipping fee, so no matter how big your order, it is still only $6.00.  With that courtesy, along with the best price I could find on this particular brand of knives, you could not fail.  We will be ordering through Ragweed Forge again.

It should be mentioned that the knives come razor-sharp right out of the box, so you will want to be supervising when they are first opened.  There are also some basic knowledge that is needed, which is mostly common sense, but still a must, when learning about the craft knife, and how to handle it.  Emphasizing respect for the sharp blade of the knife is essential, as is always carving away from yourself, and learning to think:  where will this blade go, or better yet, where will it end up when it stops???  If you have a child that cannot, or does not, respect the knife, then they are not yet ready for the responsibility of the craft.


For my boys the relationship with their knife is an almost sacred one.  Because they all have the exact same knife, I had them woodburn them, with their own choosen embellishment.  This quest surprised me, as it was undertaken with careful, thoughtful, consideration, and time to fully meditate on what they would choose to brand their own personal knife with, a crest of sorts, that belonged only to themselves.  The knife bearing crested insignia serves as insight to their souls. With pride and honor they strap onto belts a sense of themselves and their own personal truths.

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Spring Tonic

One of the joys of harvesting maple sap for syrup, is drinking straight from the tap.  This all natural spring tonic has been utilized for centuries.  Native Americans knew the benefits of maple sap, as did early settlers, as well as those who have lived close to the land, dependent upon on a local seasonal diet throughout the years.

A maple tree’s roots grow deep into the ground and ‘mine’ nourishing minerals and vitamins from deep within the earth bringing them up through the tree and into the sap.  Maple sap contains many valuable minerals, enzymes, beneficial nutrients, and antioxidants, perfect for replenishing the body after a long winter.  These nutrients become readily available for the body to utilize within the sap, or maple water.

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Historically, seasonal winter diets relied primarily on locally raised and preserved food, they could become limited in their vitamin and mineral content.  As one consumes the same foods for an extended period, without the variety that is available in grocery stores today, by the end of the winter season a body could most likely be in need of some extra nourishment.  That is why a seasonal diet is so important.  Often, the exact vitamins and minerals one might need, come along naturally in the next season.  This is the case with maple sap, or maple water, which all the old timers called Spring Tonic.

This spring tonic can put the spring back in your step, if you are feeling a little low.  Some refer to maple sap as Nature’s Energy Drink.  It is extremely refreshing, and once you experience it, you look forward to spring when the sugar trees start their run.  It tastes slightly sweet, light and crisp.  I have experienced nothing else like it.  It is full of vim and vigor.

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Some people prefer to boil their sap first, before drinking, as there may be a slight chance of bacterial contamination, depending upon how your equipment was washed and handled.  This pasteurizes the final product.  It still bears its mineral and vitamin content, but keep in mind that any beneficial bacteria will have been destroyed. Boiling the sap makes a sweet water of sorts, and is wonderful for making coffee, tea, and hot toddies.  We have found it is best enjoyed with the company of friends around the cook fire!

We enjoy our spring tonic in a variety of ways, but the best one is straight from the tap, or bucket!

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If you are not in the camp of making your own maple syrup, but have a maple tree in the backyard, you may want to consider tapping it, for your own very own source of spring tonic!

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Tapping Trees By Hand

This sugar sap season we were blessed with the opportunity to use a hand drill.  I will sheepishly admit, that I wasn’t thrilled with the idea at first, and actually, I was a little hot under the collar, to be completely honest.  ‘You want me to do what?!! SERIOUSLY???!!!’ 

You see, we didn’t set out to tap our trees this way, but life has a way of changing your plans.

Our rechargeable drill was fired up and ready to go, but when I tried to use it on the first tree, I discovered it didn’t have enough giddy-up to get the job done. The batteries are shot.  Faced with another improvisation in getting the job done, my lovin man found his great-grandpa’s hand drill in the garage.  I am quite sure that the look on my face was rather priceless, as I was presented with the notion, of well, here, you will just have to use this.  He was a bit sheepish, but I did notice the twinkle in his eye…because after 20 years of marriage, I’m bettin he knew how I would react. At first, I thought it was a joke.  Then the more he gently teased me into the idea, the more I reluctantly agreed for him to show me how it worked.  I am a little ashamed to admit, that I do not readily like to change the plan.  No matter what it is, it takes me a while, and sometimes with a lot of grumbling, and sometimes some not so nice words in my head, to wrap my mind around doing things another way. Bless the soul of my husband.  He has the patience of Job with me, always has.

Now, lovely people, do not think that I shirk at the idea of hard work, because I don’t.  Most of what I do every day is by hand.  Some out of necessity, some things out of choice.  I like the feel of doing things simply.  Yes, often it is what is referred to as work by most, but I have found that work to bear fruit of deep satisfaction with a job well done.  There is something to be said for manual labor, it steadies the mind, strains the muscle, and allows for a girl to step back, tired, dirty, calloused, but happy with a deep peace that one can rest now that the job is done.

Let it be said that I am not mechanically inclined.  I wish I was.  I can manage, but usually it isn’t pretty, and probably a less than average outcome.  Power tools are slightly terrifying to me, as most are, well for lack of better word- powerful.  Plus it doesn’t help that they can render you without an appendage or limb in a matter of seconds.  Yes, I am being slightly dramatic, but this is how they make me feel.  So, as luck would have it, I have fallen in love with the hand drill.  Yep, you heard me right, LOVE IT!!!!  This really shouldn’t surprise me I guess, with my love of doing things by hand.  However, on the cusp of hand-drilling fifty trees, I wasn’t quite as convinced as I am now in the process.

If I have my way, I will always tap my maple trees with a hand drill.

So, the next day after a late evening apprehensive lesson in how the hand drill works, the boys and I took to the maple trail. Armloads of buckets, and hand tools in tow.  We walk our trail, we do not use an ATV as many do, and have found abundant joy in doing it this way.  There is a peace that comes from working in the woods alongside the wild.  Feeling each footstep on an awakening forest floor and listening to the symphony of wild things.  The wind in the trees, the tenor of the wild turkeys, the banter of early spring songbirds overhead.  The hoot of the Great Horned Owl, and a cackling of crows accompany us as we work with our hands. The boys feel this too, and we are all drawn in.  It becomes a sacred, magical journey into the wild and free.  Unencumbered by harsh noise made by power tools drowning out  the sounds of the wild, you become a part of it, and add rhythms of your own.  The playful chatter of boys, the full, deep belly laughs that only freedom knows, the freedom of deeply trusting who you are, the ones you are with, and your surroundings, the exclamations of joyful discovery of some natural wonder, the moments of silence and deep soulful conversations, the brush of fabric as a hand reaches out to hold, all add to the orchestra playing the notes of the wild and free.

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We each took our turn with the hand drill, each of us slowly learning to trust the tool and allow it to do the work.  For there is a secret to a hand tool, one that lies in its very design.  The secret is, the tool will do the work, all you have to do in operating it, is to be steady and guide.  So this became my mantra as I guided each kiddo through their initiation.  Look up into the branches, choose your spot, make it comfortable for you, so you can be steady, turn the handle, do not push, let the drill do the work.  Once each of us learned how to trust the tool to do the job it was designed for, it became easy, and unbelievable joyful.  The hand drill became an extension of your body, an expression of your energy applied to a very focused and attentive task.  Your mind became pleasantly entertained by the process of the drill bit biting into bark and with steady guiding, the gentle whirring of shavings being released from their hold as a rhythmic breath pulsed muscle to turn the soft, smooth wooden handle, ease and very little effort produced the resulting dwelling for the tap to reside.  I watched the boys as each of them had their moment, you could see it happen, it would slowly wash over them, the realization that they could trust the tool, and not fight it, they could allow it to work, as all they had to do was guide and observe.  They had full control, and after a few tries complete mastery over the process.  They learned to trust themselves, their bodies, and the tools that magnified their own energy.  Each of them gleaned a deep satisfaction, a deep knowing of self and tool, from learning and participating in this process of working with not only their hands, but heart as well.

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It was a joyful afternoon.  One I would not trade for anything, not even a power drill!…Especially not for a power drill now that I have insight into our journey together on this land.  As I look back at my reaction to the hand drill I am overwhelmed with gladness, that I opened my mind and heart, unclenched my fists to the idea of tapping our trees by hand.  The enrichment of the process brought by tapping those trees by hand has touched our hearts and embedded upon our souls a deep satisfaction, deep peace in knowing and trusting in ourselves, our bodies, and the natural processes that surround us.


Taps Are In!

Glorious anticipation.  Waiting, at the ready, hopeful of a season yet to come.  The boys and I tromped through sugary crusts of slushy snow zigzagging our way around the woods, hunting maples.  The rough black bark is a sure tell of a maple in wait.  The chatter of boys like chickadees banters playfully as we go.  Stacks of buckets become lighter as hearts do too.  The birds sing along their melodies in concert with our work as though greeting us as a sure sign of spring.  The chorus of the woods drown out the hand drill as it silently works inward.  Everything about this process is thrilling from the beginning.  Becoming immersed in the process and miracles of spring releases floodgates thawing rivers of gratitude. Awakening to joy, awakening to spring.  So as the taps are in, I quietly reflect inward on a blessed and joyful life flowing with gratitude.


Spring Thaw

Northern Minnesota weather is amazing.  One day it can be well below zero, and the next well above freezing.  We have documented 50-60 degree temperature changes around here.  Talk about an extreme climate! I forget that not everyone experiences that, having been born and raised in it, it just seems natural.  Going from a week of barely rising above zero to thawing this week with expected temps of nearing or exceeding 60 degrees tomorrow just puts a little spring in your heart!  A girl, a couple boys and a dog, can’t help but to feel ecstatic!!!