Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'd Tap That! Sugaring Your Own Syrup From Maple Trees! Plus Fun T-Shirt Designs And Products For Tree Tappers!

Yum! You know Spring is finally here when the tree sap rises up to make that sweet 100% pure maple syrup! That dang winter cold and snow have kept our dreams of warm weather at bay, even as late as this past Sunday! Towards the end of winter many people in the New England states get together to celebrate what is known as "sugaring" or "mapling" the sap collected from sugar maple trees. Well that past time can happen here in the Mid-Atlantic region too. This is the tale of an old fashioned backyard adventure between two guys that share a common bond and tenacity to create that sweet maple taste for their family and friends! 

For this special post I combined forces with my daughter. She is sharing photos of this old time syrup endeavor that her partner Mike, and his best friend Jeff, have conducted for the past two years on Jeff's farm. Mike says he likes the historical connection to making your own maple syrup since the early colonists considered maple syrup a precious commodity. Even though I have not been over to the farm during the "sugaring season" I definitely value the ingenuity these two have shown in making a really useful organic product on their own! It takes weeks of hard work and preparation so we can savor that amber colored syrup puddling over hot buckwheat pancakes! Now who doesn't love maple syrup!?! 

Home made maple syrup soaking in our pancakes!

The end of this post regards product designs that this maple syrup pastime has now inspired. Mike asked if I could design him a t-shirt with the popular saying "I'd Tap That!" along with an image of a maple tree. I did just that for his Christmas present, and then placed the t-shirt design in my Retro_Vintage Zazzle store. Surprisingly this new "I'd Tap That" t-shirt became a best seller! I've since created a few additional awesome variations of the maple tree tapping designs which are now available in my "Queens Table Shop." Funny thing is... Mike has misplaced his original "I'd Tap That!" t-shirt, and will have to get himself a new one! Wuh oh!

Taking advantage of the maple trees that line the front yard.

Back to ye olde maple tree story and how these two long time friends began down this sweet bygone road. My daughter told me.... "These guys are two of the smartest and most ingenious men that I know. It started simply with Mike saying to Jeff... "Hey man, you should tap your maple trees!" Then this whole thing was born. Together they have learned everything about syrup making from the Internet and YouTube research, plus lots of trial and error. Even though last year the struggle of a new learning curve included many hours with little pay off, they were inspired to make the syrup project even better this year. They accomplished a lot together since they both have a huge work ethic. Ultimately they successfully completed the syrup undertaking this year while juggling work, families, and everything else in life. I'm sure being friends for so many years doesn't hurt either...

Fire always brings people together when it's cold!

Being able to problem solve on the fly is really impressive. They had to design and build the evaporation system. That in itself took a few different set ups until they got one that worked well for them. Working outside in the bitter cold all day long especially during cook days is hard. Plus they were also out there regularly checking the taps, collecting the sap from the buckets, and pouring the sap into the main barrel for cooking everyday. After all the time and work they put into the syrup project this year, now Jeff has even stated he wants to tap twice as many trees next year! Wow! He even envisions they might one day grow the venture large enough to have a product to sell at the many festivals he works." 

The children including our grand kids have many fun spaces to play in the yard.

"Jeff invites anyone who wants to see how the syrup is made to come over to their farm. They have a such a great place, with a warm open home for entertaining both adults and kids. They try to make it a family affair, and everyone certainly enjoys the fun atmosphere. Really it's a treat to get together with these dear friends to be part of something so cool... and delicious!!!"

Hopefully next year hubby and I can venture out into the bitter cold and check out the mapling process over at the farm for ourselves. People up in Vermont go to sugaring camps where there are woods full of tapped sugar maple trees, and also shop for fresh syrup at places called "Sugar Shacks!" It's certainly a huge deal in that area of the country where they tap tons of Sugar Maple trees to create the syrup we all know and love. Here is a fantastic blog post called "Maple Everything from October Farm" where the blogger Jaz shares the maple shacks in her part of the country. Looks like they got it down to a warmer science, as their rigs are indoors!

You can see two methods the guys use for collecting sap on the tree above.

Now to this season's recent wild syrup exploits... The sap of a Sugar Maple tree contains 4% sugar while the sap of other maple trees only contains 1% sugar. Luckily for us, Jeff has a good amount of Silver and Norway maple trees that they can cook down enough syrup to share with family and friends. 

First they selected the Maple trees and holes were drilled on an upwards angle. 

Then taps called spiles were hammered into the trees.

Sap buckets were hooked under the taps to capture the magical elixir.

Fresh sap then dripped from the maple trees into the waiting buckets.

In deciduous trees sap pulses from the roots to the treetop everyday except in the winter. Available maple tree tapping time can vary from year to year, depending on the weather and length of the season. The sap tastes the sweetest before the trees bud. So even though we had a long winter here, the few warm days in between frigid ones started the trees to bud out, shortening the sugaring season. Once the trees start to bud the tree puts all its energy into making the leaves and that ends the sweet sap production for the year. 

The next thing that is needed is heat. This is the fire pit under the evaporator.

Mike striking the 'American Gothic' pose after enduring only singed eyebrows 
from some blow-back. Apparently some "matrix' moves were used!

This large bin called the evaporator hold 40 plus gallons of sap. After the water from the sap is evaporated out, the syrup is cooked down to taste. This year the guys built a new evaporation system cutting down their cook time from 14 hours to six. Did you realize it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? 

What is now 'syrup' is transferred to a pot to boil until it reaches proper temperature.

New towels or clean wool fabric are used to strain out particulates or "sugar sand."

As they got better with their cooking methods there were less and less of these particulates in each cook batch till there was almost none. 

The hot syrup is poured extremely carefully into clean mason jars. 

Working with the boiling syrup can be dangerous business. Getting splashed by this 218 degree syrup would cause a really bad burn. I hear that Jeff is happy he had a beard to protect his face from some stray spray, although his hands were not always that lucky!

The finished product! A table full of yummy maple syrup!

Different syrup colors may be the result of their cooking times, or perhaps they came from a batch that was made on a different day. The lighter the syrup the quicker the cooking time. Longer cook times may be due to ice in some of the buckets that must be also be evaporated out along with the water in the sap. A sixty six percent sugar content in finished syrup is good for its preservation. The mason jars are turned upside down to create a better seal.

Doesn't that syrup look beautiful! I'm sure everybody wants some! I hope you have come to understand why we value the fresh maple syrup we get each year. Especially knowing the hard work and dedication it takes to make just a small container of 100% pure maple syrup! So cool what these two guys could manifest once they decided to take on making their own maple syrup last year. Such old fashioned ways never go out of style! It's so wonderful to be a recipient of such tasty goodness from Mother Nature and generous souls!

Remember besides pouring over oatmeal and pancakes, maple syrup is a fantastic choice as a sweetener to use in your all recipes! If you cannot get it from a sugar shack or a very handy friend just be sure it's 100% pure maple syrup, no fillers and no additives!

Maple Syrup Tree Tappers T-Shirt Collection

If you choose to put this design on a dark grey color tee 
you get the popular chalkboard look.

Now it's onward to our fun maple syrup t-shirts to celebrate the sap rising! I carry different "I'd Tap That" and "The Sap Is Rising" maple syrup designs in both of my online stores Retro_Vintage and The Queens Table  Maple sections. All designs can be placed on various colors, and assorted top designs for men, women, or children. Some of the designs may be customizable too! There are other products there as well, but I thought I would just put a selection of choices here as an example. You can click on any product image, or the product caption, to be taken to the sales and information page for that design.

I did this distressed type design in maple syrup colors.

This I'd Tap That! hoodie design has been very popular!

Having your "I'd Tap That Maple Tree" design placed on a warm hoodie makes good sense for real tree tappers! They spend many hours outside in the cold weather and if you are going to be wearing a hoodie it might as well be this cool one with a bit of fun innuendo!

The original I'd Tap That! design!

The original I'd Tap That! design with a tapped maple tree silo has a type style that looks scraggly and much like sticks. We have purchased many tops from our zazzle stores, the printing and fabric quality is excellent.

I made the maple tree image smaller in this t-shirt design.

This design has a very woody looking type style.

Something for the ladies.
Be sure to read the info on sizing under store front image for women's tops as they tend to run smaller and you will need to purchase larger sizes. A general rule is that white designs look better on dark colors, and darker images look better on lighter shirts. 

A larger tree in white of my original design.

Custom Personalization Options!

I have also made a couple of the maple tree designs into editable templates. This means there is an area on the t-shirt where you can add your own text or wording in addition to my original design. For instance you might want to add your name, farm, company, sugar shack, or a saying of your own, in this space to personalize. When you go to the sales page for the t-shirt there will be a box to change the words that say "add your text here." Very easy and simple. See the examples below of how you can customize the t-shirts to your needs! Of course you can change the color, fabric, and garment style if you wish as well, and even get this done on a hoodie.

Just change the words in the text box to say what you want it to read. 
Click on this caption to go to sales page.

Two examples of the ways you could change the wording and personalize. 
Just click on this photo to go to sales page for this white tree version. 

A different maple tree t-shirt design with the add your own text option. 
Just click on this caption to go to sales page for this one .

This type style is a casual funky look for "your own words."

A Few Other Tree Tapping Products

Bright Mugzzzzz

Green Mugzzzz



Maple Syrup Labels And Stickers

After looking at all the mason jars and bottles used in the maple syrup production process, I added labels and stickers to my "Kitchen Supply" area of the 'Queens Table Shop' that people can use to place on their jars full of fresh syrup. Then I designed some pre-made maple syrup specific templates where folks can just type in the name of their own maple syrup operation into my template. Some of the stickers can be customized with your own text by using the online tool provided, and some are completely blank and then you can purchase a marker pen and hand write your information as you like. For example you would use a fine line white marker pen on the blank dark chalkboard style sticker. You can also use the stickers on gift bags, boxes, or on your syrup making gear. Well whatever you want to put a sticker on, although they are not made for outdoor use in the weather.


Two areas to add your personal name and other information.

Blank blackboard style sticker.
Four lines of type available on this vintage circle to use for your own wording!

A simple square vintage sticker design for your Maple Syrup needs.

One line of type where you can change the wording to your name.

So there you have it folks! Proof that this maple syrup tree tapping started a whole 'nother level in my designed products. I will probably keep adding designs for awhile so I am prepared for the next sugaring season. You can go to The Queen's Retro Vintage Shop and The Queen's Table Shop at anytime to purchase any of these goodies for yourself, or as a gift for a friend or family member. Now let's raise a jar to the tree tappers! After all it's we who get the sweet rewards! Yeah baby! We be sugaring!

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