Seasonal SweetnessFeb 28, 2022 09:00AM ● By Gayle Morrow
We don’t really know how it all began, do we? Perhaps a millennium ago, more or less, someone was walking through the woods and thought, “Hmm, I guess I’ll taste some of this maple tree juice.” And then, upon discovering it was a little sweet, went on to say, “Hmm, I bet if I boiled it, it would be sweeter and taste really good on my waffles.”
Okay, that’s probably not quite the way it was. We all know pancakes were invented before waffles. But with the requisite cooperation from Mother Nature, the evaporator in the sugar house at Triple D Farms will, by the time you read this, be fired up and working overtime to transform maple sap into maple syrup, with which you can drown your pancakes, waffles, popcorn, ice cream, etc.
Jared, who in his day job is a fifth grade math and science teacher in the Northern Potter School District, seems to be fine with the “overtime” part of it all. He and his wife, Rachael, who have three kids, ages two, four, and six, offer horseback riding lessons, trail rides, horse camp, and a fall roundup during the warm weather months. But on the cold mid-winter day I visited, Rachael and the kids were at a birthday party, and Jared had just completed several hours of snowplowing. The sugar house was visible from their house, along with quite a bit of snow and ice to move to make it accessible for the upcoming season.
As a kid on the same French Hill Road property where he lives now, Jared helped his family with their maple business. He hauled sap. And hauled more sap. In those days, their sap went to a processor in return for shares of the finished product. When he decided to get into the production end of things, he also decided his hauling days were over.
“I built the sugar house so I could do it by myself,” he says. With a network of blue tubing connecting a sugar bush of about 100 taps per acre over thirty acres, a vacuum system, a couple of “lifts” for the trees that are lower in elevation than the sugar house, a reverse osmosis system, and an evaporator that is a marvel of pipes, valves, and gauges, he can.
With the patience of a teacher, Jared explains in detail how each p art of his complex system works. Certainly there are syrup makers who have been in the business longer than he has, and with so much information available online it’s easy to pick the brains of those with more experience. But, Jared notes, “everything in everyone’s bush is different,” which can make getting the specific parts or equipment you need a challenge. There is usually some on-site fabrication or tweaking necessary.
Obviously, it all starts with the annual tapping of the tree, but there are variations and digressions on the “right” way to do even that.
“I tap in a spiral,” he says, adding “there are lots of different ways to do it,” but it’s most important to not just tap around the tree with all taps at the same level. He uses “seasonal spouts” with his tubing—they’re the end pieces that connect the tap to the tubing. It’s important to remove them and replace them each season to help minimize bacteria in the lines. The vacuum system Jared devised keeps the sap flowing through the lines. It turns on and off automatically once things are up and running, and even detects leaks. The “lifts”, for the lines that are below the sugar house’s elevation, maintain the vacuum in those lines.
At the sugar house, the sap travels through various pipes and tanks before it hits the evaporator, but nothing stays in one place for very long.
“I process everything we get the same day,” Jared says. “I come in here after school, start the RO [reverse osmosis], go have supper with my family, then come back and start boiling.” (See his afore-mentioned comment about liking to keep busy.) The reverse osmosis machine removes about eighty percent of the water from the sap before it gets to the evaporator. Boiling time can vary with the sap’s sugar content, which, in turn, can vary with where we are in the season (sugar content is usually higher at the onset), and, of course, with the weather. Jared has a “sap app” on his phone that uses altitude, barometric pressure, and other environmental factors to quickly compute the correct temperature for drawing off the finished product.
Each syrup season is unique. Jared says last year was “a very weird year,” with the flow and the boiling happening in fits and starts. Nevertheless, they made 825 gallons in 2021 at Triple D, selling 480 gallons in bulk, and keeping the balance to sell locally, online, and for making maple candy and maple cream. He and Rachael do the bottling in a separate kitchen in their home, and typically make a batch of candy once a week—that’s 300 to 400 pieces—usually at night after the kids are asleep. Between the three—syrup, candy, and cream—it’s been a good year for online sales, Jared says. They ship all over the world. “We sent quite a bit to the U.K. and to Romania,” he muses. And he confesses to being a little amazed at the popularity of maple candy.
“It’s something different, and people like it,” he says, although he disagrees with the assertion from some that the candy melts in your mouth. “I don’t think it does.”
You should probably make that judgment for yourself. For more information, call (814) 258-7690 or go to tripledmaple.com.