Maple Syrup 2016

It’s that time of year again, where the nights are below freezing and the days are above.  This means that the maple sap is going to run and maple syrup is ready to be made.  This year has been a lot of warmer than last year in the Northeast.  We’ve only had a couple really cold days, but nothing like last year.  Everyone had said that last year was terrible for maple syrup here, but it was my first year so I didn’t know any better.  I put in 23 taps last year and made 6 gallons of syrup, which is a little better than I thought.  The rule of thumb is ¼ gallon per tap, so even with a bad year I hit that mark.
I ended up tapping on February 15th, a week earlier than last year.  I did this since the weather forecast was for perfect sap running weather, 45 and sunny during the day and 25 at night.  Due to me running out of time (and daylight), I only put in 36 taps.  The process was fairly easy, as I could mostly tell where the old taps were.  Some trees did a better job than others of closing the holes, but I was usually able to find the previous tap.  I simply moved at least 6 inches (in most cases 12” or more) away from the old hole and drilled a new one.  I had bought a new tapping bit and found that it drove into the wood much better than using a regular old drill bit.  In that first week, I got 45 gallons of sap.  I then put in the remaining taps (13 of them) on Saturday February 21st.  That day, it was 27 at night and hit 60 during the day with full sun.  I ended up with 46 gallons of sap in that one day.  The next day did drop to 30 at night and then warmed up to 50 during the day, leading to another 34 gallons.  I boiled all this down in one day.  So, after the first week, I already had 3 gallons of syrup.  This equates to 1/2 of all the stuff I made last year.  I also wasn’t able to make syrup until March 21st last year.  The trees apparently haven’t had to thaw out like they did last year, so any warm up is sending the sap right up the trees.  Looking forward to another 4-5 weeks of syrup season and great weather to go along with it.
The next week for sap was great.  There was a period of cold weather followed by an extensive warmup.  What I have found is that you don’t have to have each day below freezing and each day above freezing.  You can have a couple cold days followed by really warm days and you will get massive amounts of sap.  We had two of these in two weeks.  The amount of sap was unbelievable.  At one point, I had 120 gallons of sap.  Since my evaporator can only do about 6 gallons an hour, it was going to be a long couple days.  Luckily, we discovered that we can fill the evaporator with sap overnight and utilize the dying fire to evaporate sap.  This way, we were able to evaporate 12 gallons in our sleep.  This saved roughly 2 hours of active boiling.  I’m not concerned with the low temp evaporation, as we still end up with a rigorous boil to finish it.  The resultant syrup tasted the same as ones that we actively boiled the entire time.  All in all, by the time we hit March 15th, we had 11 gallons of syrup done. 

By March 17th, the trees had still not budded, so we are looking at 1 more run for the season.  We are going to get cold for a couple days and then warm up again, so looking for that one final run of sap to perhaps make about 3-4 more gallons of syrup
So, the weather has been unusually warm the last couple weeks, leading to very little run of sap.  However, this doesn’t mean there has been absolutely no run.  I have been getting a good 10 gallons or so on days when it cools down slightly and warms up during the day.  This has allowed me to catch my breath.

Venison Jerky

My brother had an exceptionally good year hunting, taking down 3 large deer. This left him with an abundance of venison, of which I happily allowed him to use my freezer. In the course of the storage, some of the meat was “lost.” One of the things that did find it back to him was some venison jerky. I only make jerky from steak, since the ground meat version is too fatty and doesn’t have the same chewiness that makes jerky so good. So, I dug out my favorite jerky recipe, my dehydrator and 2 pounds of venison steak.

The first thing is to make sure that the meat has been frozen for 30 days. This is to ensure that any parasites or microrganisms in the venison is killed. Honestly, I find it interesting that we think wild game is more contaminated than the factory farmed cow, but it is what it is. The next thing is to have the meat not totally thawed out. Having it semi-frozen allows for better cutting. This ensures that I can cut each piece as closely to ¼” thick as possible. The uniform thickness allows for an even drying amongst all the pieces. I have found about 8 hours in my fridge from the freezer gets me to the right state of frozenness. I then mix up the following marinade for 2 lbs of meat:

2/3 cup Worcestershire sauce

2/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

After mixing all of the ingredients together, I put it and the sliced meat in a resealable bag for 4 hours in the refrigerator. After four hours, I pull it out of the fridge and place it on the dehydrator trays. I put a lot of space between the pieces to make sure I have good airflow. I then set it to 160 F and walk away for 2 hours. After 2 hours, I take the dehydrator apart and pat down the pieces to absorb any fat. Venison is so lean that it rarely has any, but beef has a tiny bit, so it’s a force of habit. (If you make it from ground meat, you’ll be doing this frequently). I then restack the trays in the opposite order (top one is now on the bottom) to make sure I get evenness and then restart it for another 2 hours. After that, I repeat the pat down and restacking before another 2 hours of cooking. In the winter, when the air is dryer, 6 hours is all that is needed to dry my jerky. You can tell when it is done because the strips are had but still bendable, with no pockets of moisture. I then place it into resealable bags and toss it in the freezer. The best part is that you can eat it right out of the freezer since there is no moisture in it. It just helps to ensure that I don’t have to worry about it going bad in a month. That way, if I forget about it, I don’t ends up having to throw it away. The whole process takes the course of 1 day, so it isn’t too hard to plan.

venison jerky