by Donna Cain
Blake and his wife Barbara have been coming to our inn every January for many years. They live back in the Berkshires where I grew up, and a connection was made as Barb went to high school with my cousin Kelly.
This year they brought us a wonderful jug of their homemade maple syrup. We always serve the “real deal” maple syrup with our sweet breakfasts. I have childhood memories of visiting a maple syrup farm in Vermont which included seeing many pails hung from trees, but I knew modern day techniques had to be different. I was tickled when Blake agreed to an interview, so I could properly blog about how maple syrup is made these days.
Blake and his family has been making maple syrup for over 45 years. His first memories included carrying the sap back to the house in plastic sand buckets as his legs were too short to carry the larger buckets through the snow. His family depended on syrup, summer berries for jam (to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids) and vegetables from the garden to supplement the families meals. My mother grew up in this area, and I remember many a story from my grandmother telling about how the family depended on food that could be produced directly from the land. It amazes me now that the farm to table belief has come full circle. We love our gardens at Brewster by the Sea and continue to source our food locally whenever possible.
Blake went on to explain that they updated their syrup techniques in 1995 to include tap lines that connected the tree taps to a central tank. (No more collecting the syrup with sand buckets for Blake:) With this new collection technique, 200-350 taps can go into one tank.
It’s a family affair with Blake, as his dad and brothers have connecting properties where they tap the trees, and this year they also tapped into a church property and two land permission properties as well. The family sells their finished product by word of mouth, and guessing from Blake and Barb’s lovable personalities, they gift many jugs as well. Blake just smiled when he explained “it’s a labor of love, and we just hope to make enough money from the sales to help purchase the plastic jugs and supplies”.
This past year they ended up with over 100 gallons of syrup. Amazingly it takes approximately 50 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup with the amount fluctuating by the time in the season. In the beginning of the season, 30 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup and by the end of the season it takes sometimes over 70 gallons of sap to make that one precious gallon. It was so interesting to understand the grading system, and Blake is a member of the Maple Syrup Association of Massachusetts which has recently updated the grading system.
The Grade Amber light is produced at the beginning of the season and is the product that wins ribbons at the country fairs.
Grade B is the darker version from the latter part of the season and has a darker, bolder flavor.
Understanding the process was so interesting, and Blake went on to explain that the sap is filtered many times: it’s filtered before it goes into the first pan, filtered before boiling, filtered again before it’s extracted from the flat pan and the final filter when it’s brought up to temperature and bottled. They have a 7 foot stainless steel pan where the sap is boiled. During the process the boiling point is monitored closely as the syrup boiling point in 218- 219. They have a wonderful sugar shack where they burn pine wood to bring the sap up to temperature.
It’s fun to think that Blake is getting maple syrup from the same trees that his father tapped over 40 years ago. His dad was happy to get 3 gallons of maple syrup each year and amazingly Blake was able to produce over 100 gallons last year.
Thank you Blake and Barb for the wonderful gift of your homemade syrup and for the gift of your friendship. Wishing you both a year filled with health, laughter and happiness.