Friday, March 11, 2011


Remember when I said that I was going to reduce the maple syrup to its final syrupy consistency on the stove? Well, I have. And in the process, I had to figure out what the hell "aproning" looks like.

Aproning is the old-fashioned way of figuring out if the syrup is thick enough. Before thermometers and hydrometers and all that fancy stuff, people just looked at the syrup dripping off the end of a spoon and knew by looking at it when it was done. Explanations of what the appropriate degree of aproning is are pretty damn vague, let me tell you. The common explanation is that when the syrup no longer comes off the edge of a spatula in individual drips, but instead kind of hangs together in a sheet, that's aproning.

All well and good, but what the hell does that actually mean? It means you'd better reduce the syrup a few times and learn by experience. First, is it supposed to be a metal spatula, like a pancake flipper? Or a rubber spatula, like you use to scrape the sides of the bowl when baking? Or something wooden? I figured wood was safest, because metal retains heat and therefore keeps the syrup hotter even when it's dripping off, thereby making it thinner. Also, this is an old-fashioned way of testing, and old-fashioned kitchen utensils were almost invariably wood, so I used a flat wooden spoon to test.

I also was terrified of over-boiling and getting the syrup at all grainy--which apparently can happen pretty quick at the end--so at first I stopped when I saw ANY sign of the drops starting to pull together on the edge of the spoon. But then, after it was cooled, the syrup was still kind of thin. So I did it again.

That's the nice thing with boiling syrup: You can do it over and over. Nice of it to be so forgiving.

I've finally figured out what the aproning looks like when the syrup reaches the right consistency, but I'll be damned if I can explain it. And that's the thing: NO ONE can explain it. And it's not like there are a lot of videos out there showing maple syrup aproning. Or any videos, based on a very cursory online search. You just have to . . . know. You have to have a visual in your mind. And you either get that visual by trial and error, or by watching someone who knows what to do. And who is that person, really? No one I know. Not even the MiL, who is a font of wisdom when it comes to old-fashioned kitchen knowledge, knew what the hell syrup aproning looked like. Or when sauerkraut is done, um, sauering. Or any of the other countless small bits of knowledge that have kind of disappeared.

Except now I know what aproning looks like, so anyone who needs a first-hand tutorial, just let me know. Knowledge is power. And the key to perfect maple syrup.


Haley said...

In case you actually want a video example:
In the pancake episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown shows a sugar house and an example of that, only I think he calls it sheeting. I have seen that episode about twenty million times, so I remembered it. I think he is using some kind of metal scoop designed specifically for making syrup.

It is around the 8:30 mark or so of this video, but the maple syrup bit starts at the 7:30 mark:

Anonymous said...

You should be the first person ever to post a You Tube video on it! :)

Anonymous said...

I would have just figured that when the syrup stuck to your apron (article of clothing), it was done. Mary in MN

sheila said...

By God this is one thing I know! Back in the dark ages on the farm we used put in a 1,000 taps a year. Also, every fall my father used to make homemade sauerkraut, so I know that too. I must be ancient. You are right about all that knowledge being lost. There are many things my parents knew that I have no idea how to do. Like how to build and maintain an outhouse, cut ice and fill an ice house, harness and drive a team of horses, cut timber and run a sawmill, work a stone quarry, build a house or barn, fix any vehicle, drive a backhoe, bulldozer or log truck, grow and preserve all their own food (right down to raising the beef, butchering it and then making the ketchup, horseradish and pickles to put on it), live off the land by hunting, fishing and gathering wild foods, and on and on. I don't think there was a thing that my parents couldn't tackle and do perfectly. Neither one had more than an 8th grade education and by society standards were considered uneducated. I only wish I had a fraction of their knowledge.

Anonymous said...

The more times you bring it to the boil the darker it gets, also.
If you have a candy thermometer bring it to the 7 degree above boiling for the day point then see what it does coming off the spoon or spatula(I do think that the aproning would be off of the tools used in the actual syrup making,suchas a skimmer)....that should be it.
Also if it gets grainy and has some sugar in it THAT will settle to the bottom and you can use it off the top without the grain then eat the sugar or use it in FRIDAY NIGHT COCKTAIL NIGHT! for your sweetener.
No matter how much you boil it down , it will still be thin...that is the nature of single batch maple syrup making.
The 'big boys' have more chance of not having things spotlessly clean to begin with and they cook all season without cleaning anything so the bacteria and stuff builds up and makes the syrup thicker. That is why commercial maple syrup is thicker and darker.
Grade AA maple syrup is first run sap (when everything is clean) the longer into the season it is the darker the syrup will be. Hence AA is thinner also. That is just the nature of homemade, single batch syrup...thinner .....but with a wonderful maple flaver.....not as brown sugar tasting.
The longer you keep sap for before you cook it the more likely it will be dark too , because bacteria has built up to a certain extent in it. Even in the holes that are tapped.
Make sure to keep the sap as cold as possible while you are waiting to cook it.
Freeze plastic milk jugs with ice in the freezer and put those in your sap holding containers...or if you have snow...mound that up around it...keep it in the shade of a building that is cool out of the sun. We use new plastic trash cans 40 gallons or so they last a long time and they are dedicated to just syrup making.
If there is ice in your buckets , leave it until just right before you cook it so it can help keep the sap cold.
Oh, also, put the sap pan on and sap in it from the VERY beginning of building the need to waste wood and works just like on the cookstove in your house...unless he was just waiting for the other 'sugarmakers' to arrive before starting. I bet they were pretty beat from breaking up the pallets and feeding the small pieces into the stove...bigger wood works too. We use our junkiest firewood we have for the house.....or something we wouldn't use in the stove in the house like pine. You learn a lot as you go and we have learned a lot and if you don't mind....I am glad to pass it along to you.
Cool and you really should think about a show or book...all these things are getting lost in the big city attitude of folks. I know it would change how you are living the real thing , so I can also see why you wouldn't want to do it.
Don't proofreaders make good book writers? I bet they do.
REAL real life. Beth

FinnyKnits said...

Dude - make a video. You could be a maple syrup star on YouTube. Hey, there are weirder celebrities.