Behind the Scenes: New England Maple Syrup Production

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Maple syrup is an iconic product of New England foodways, so I was especially excited to go on the BU sustainability field trip to Mass Audubon Ipswich River Nature Reserve last weekend. This FREE field trip was open to all BU students and included a guided tour of the maple sugaring process, followed by a pancake breakfast on the property. The tour was entirely outdoors, so we did some hiking through the snow as our guide showed us how to get from sap to syrup. Ever wonder how maple syrup is made? It’s a fairly straightforward process, but extremely labor intensive.

Maple Forest

How Maple Syrup is Made:

The first step is to tap the tree, which simply means drilling a hole and attaching a spout for the sap to drip and collect into a bucket. The number of taps in a tree depends upon its size, and even the oldest, largest trees at Ipswich River Reserve do not have more than 4 taps, so as not to compromise the tree or sap production. Trees have to have reached a certain size before they can be tapped (about 10 inches in diameter) and are often at least 40 years old. The metal buckets that collect the sap are emptied about every 6-8 hours, depending on weather conditions.

Maple Tree Tap

The sap itself looks and tastes like water (yes, we tasted it!), and is only about 1% sugar. It takes about 86 gallons of sap (at a 1% sugar concentration) to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup. No wonder it is so expensive! But how does the sap get turned into delicious maple syrup? All you need is heat.

Heating up the maple sap in the sugar shack

After the buckets of sap are collected, they are brought to the “sugar shack” to be heated up. As you can probably tell, the sugar shack is a steamy little cabin that houses the machinery. The sap is simply poured into a tank where it is heated up to just above boiling, so that the water evaporates out. Nothing is added to the sap. It is simply a matter of evaporation. Once the liquid reaches the desired temperature, you have maple syrup! No additives needed.

Maple Syrup: How its made!

After leaving the sugar shack, we were greeted with a sample cup of freshly made maple syrup. Things got even sweeter as we went into the barn for all you care to eat pancake breakfast. It was the perfect way to warm up and refuel after a chilly hike through the maple forest on a cold February day. Before leaving, I was sure to purchase my own bottle of locally produced maple syrup from the gift shop. After learning about how much work it is to produce, I have a much greater appreciation for it!

Flapjack Fling

Different Grades of Maple Syrup:

You may be wondering what the difference is between the different grades of maple syrup. The lighter syrups (Grade A: light and medium amber) are made earlier in the season, and the darker syrups (dark amber and Grade B) are made later in the season. The difference is simply due to the temperature outside. Before my field trip, I always assumed that Grade A was superior. After all, that is how it works at school, as well as in the grading of other food products, such as eggs. But in the world of maple syrup, that is not always the case. Grade B maple syrup has a more distinctively “maple” flavor, and is often called cooking syrup for this reason. So the grading scale is purely a matter of taste preference.

Maple Grading Regulations

For those of you that would like to learn more:

– Kelly

Snow Day & Hot Chocolate

Okay… so this might be a bit of a departure from the healthy side of things. But if there were ever a weekend for extra special hot chocolate, this would be it…

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conquering my first blizzard

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My roommate and I scored this orange and cinnamon spiced chocolate when we toured the Taza chocolate factory last month (read about our tour here). Because this particular chocolate bar is intended to be enjoyed as a drinking chocolate (I thought it was just supposed to look like a cute coaster or something!) we were saving it for a snowy day. Taza chocolate is organic and direct trade certified from small producers, and is made right here in the Boston area (Somerville). I think we picked the right day to pull it out… wouldn’t you agree?

– Kelly

January in Boston

I have officially made it through my first month of winter in Boston… we’ll see how the next two go! Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot more to do than sit inside and drink tea (although I admit, there has been a lot of that going on in our apartment). Here is how I have been staying busy (& warm!)…

Ice Skating at Frog Pond

Ice Skating at Frog Pond

Ice skating is one of the few outdoor activities that is made for winter, so I made sure to not miss this opportunity. It’s chilly at first, but once you start moving around get the hang of it you warm up. We chose a day that was about 40 degrees- not 10!

Touring the Taza Chocolate Factory

Taza

Taza Chocolate Factory

Taza Chocolate

During the winter months, indoor activities (such as museums) are a great way to have fun while escaping the cold. As a gastronomy student, I’m partial to food related factory tours. The Taza Chocolate Tour was only $5, and well worth it! We learned about the chocolate making process from bean to bar, and because we were the only 2 that showed up for the tour, we got to ask plenty of questions along the way. The tour was much more fun and informative than I was expecting because we got to see every step of the chocolate making process up close and personal… not to mention the endless supply of chocolate samples! 🙂

Touring the Sam Adams Brewery

Sam Adams Boston

What can I say… I love food and beverage related tours! The Sam Adams Brewery Tour appears on many Boston Bucket Lists, and for a good reason. The factory tour portion was a tad shorter than expected, but we still got to see different parts of the brewing process, as well as get our hands on various hops (to smell) and malted barley (to taste) to see how they affect the profile of the beer. The second part of the tour was the tasting room. We tried 3 different types of beer (including the original Boston Lager), and even got to keep the glass as a souvenir. This tour was FREE, with a suggested $2 donation. Proceeds go to local charities.

Doing work out DVD’s

Winter Exercise on a budget

Let’s be real. All of these food factory tours, while educational, aren’t exactly easy on the waistline. But going for a jog isn’t an option in winter weather (at least not for me). So that’s where exercise DVD’s come into play. My brothers got me the Jillian Michaels Yoga DVD for Christmas, and that is definitely my current favorite. But when I am looking for something a little more intense, I do the kickboxing segment of the top DVD. Check out my last post to read more about my exercise routine, plus tips for morning workouts.

Tasting Authentic New England Seafood

Summer Shack

Last week I joined the Gastronomy Student Association for a seafood bake at Summer Shack. Although clam bakes and the like seem like decidedly summertime affairs, our group dinner was a huge success. My classmates showed me how to properly tackle King Crab legs and Lobster tails, and the paper lined tables and bibs left us no reason to worry about making a mess. With sides of corn on the cob and red new potatoes, the whole experience reminded me very much of a crawfish boil. This experience was definitely a must-do for my New England food education!

Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow yesterday, so spring could be here sooner rather than later. How are you going to spend your remaining days of winter?

– Kelly

Hands-on Educational Highlights of the Fall Semester

Jacques Pepin

My first semester of graduate school has come to a close. Despite the wealth of knowledge that I gained from my courses, some of my favorite educational experiences occurred outside of the classroom. Between special lectures at BU, trips for work, and events hosted by the Gastronomy Students Association and the Massachusetts Dietetic Association, I have been able to get a well-rounded understanding of food and nutrition. So without further ado, here is a list of my favorite hands-on educational experiences from this past semester.

AD Makepeace Cranberry Bog

  • Getting oriented to my food studies program by taking a GPS tour of Boston’s foodie hotspots (including the Fenway Victory Gardens and a vegetarian food truck), followed by beers and appetizers at Meadhall
  • Learning about local New England foodways by touring a cranberry bog and visiting an apple orchard (see this post)
  • Attending a panel on the Dietitians role in sustainability, which included a presentation by Barton Seaver (National Geographic Fellow and Washington DC Chef), as well as a representative from Farm Aid, a hospital sustainability coordinator, and a chef/Dietitian at Johnson and Wales University.
  • Taking a trip to Sysco for work, and getting to taste-test new vegetarian recipes for the dining halls. Getting paid to eat? Yes, please!
  • Attending a workshop at Harvard Common Press on food writing, where I got to mingle with the editor of Edible Boston, as well as learn about the ins and outs of cookbook publishing. Did I mention that the brunch spread was from Flour Bakery? Yum! (read here to learn more about the event)
  • Getting to see Jaques Pepin, the co-founder of my program, speak at BU. He also signed my cookbook! To learn more about the event, read here and here.
  • Taking the Cheese 101 Class at Formaggio Kitchen with the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. The class included 8 cheese and condiment pairings, 4 wine tastings, and a cave tour!

Cheese 101 at Formaggio Kitchen

Cheese 101 at Formaggio Kitchen

– Kelly

Healthy Gift Guide Part 1: The Farmers Market Foodie

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Do you have any health conscious friends or loved ones still left to shop for? This gift guide is full of great gift ideas to inspire healthy lifestyle choices.

Part 1: The Farmers Market Foodie. These gifts are perfect for anyone that frequents farmers markets, appreciates fresh produce, or is passionate about local, sustainable food.

Healthy Gift Guide part 1: Gifts for for Farmers Market Foodies

  1. Squash Identification Dishtowel, $16. This adorable dish towel perfectly captures the spirit of fresh produce. Is anyone else reminded of page 77 of Julia Rothman’s Farm Anatomy?
  2. American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, $30. The White House organic garden has quickly become a national symbol for the local food revolution. This book is the perfect gift to give your favorite locavore. And as a bonus, it also recently received praise from Marion Nestle. A win in my book!
  3. CSA Box, price varies, usually $325-$600 per growing season. CSA stands for community supported agriculture. By purchasing a CSA subscription, you are essentially purchasing a share of the farm. In return, you receive boxes with a variety of local produce on a weekly, bimonthly, monthly basis, depending on the farm. Shares often come in various sizes, and half shares are sometimes available for smaller households. I would google your city + CSA (example: Boston CSA) to find CSA options in your area. Click here for CSA options in the Boston area.
  4. edible: A Celebration of Local Foods, $30. From the makers of edible communities magazines, this is more than just a cookbook. This book highlights recipes from different culinary regions across America, as well as recognizes local food heroes. Additionally, a copy of your local edible would be the perfect addition to any local food gift basket. Edibles are produced for 70 cities across the US and Canada. To see if your community has an edible magazine, click here.
  5. Home Grown Garden Card Set (set of 8), $18. These cards perfectly capture the spirit of home gardening. They come blank, and would be the perfect vehicle to share your thanks with your local food producer.
  6. State by State Food Tote Bag, $25. This adorable tote bag is perfect for carrying home all of your locally grown goodies. The geographic touches make this pick one of my favorites!
  7. Artichoke iPhone Case, $35. This unique case will keep the spirit of your favorite market alive, even after the last harvest. Available for iPhone 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, and 5.
  8. Farmers Market 8×10 Print, $18. This cheery print is perfect for any farmers market aficionado.
  9. Farmer’s Market Cards (set of 6), $14. These beautiful watercolor cards are printed on textured linen coverstock, and the inside is blank for your own thoughts. What a lovely way to share the beauty of farmers markets!

Check back soon for part 2 of my Healthy Gift Guide. The next one is going to have a nutrition focus. Still looking for more gift ideas? Check out this awesome gift guide for Boston Foodies! These picks would be perfect for any of my classmates in the BU Gastronomy program. Happy shopping!

-Kelly

BU Sustainablility Cranberry Bog and Apple Field Trip

Today marks the first day of autumn, and I was lucky enough to spend my first autumn in New England on a field trip to a local cranberry bog and apple orchard! After browsing the BU events calendar online, I discovered this awesome (and FREE) field trip arranged by the Sustainability Coordinator of BU Dining.  Being a lover of local food and guided tours, this excursion sounded right up my alley! My roommate joined me, as she has a strong affinity for cranberries and has always wanted to visit a cranberry bog.

This FREE field trip included:

  • Pumpkin Muffins and Coffee at the George Sherman Union
  • A tour of the various cranberry bogs at A.D. Makepeace
  • A yummy box lunch from BU
  • A trip to Keith’s Farm to pick our own apples

And now for the tour…

The cranberry bog tour was even more impressive than I imagined! A.D. Makepeace is the largest cranberry bog in the world and has about 2000 acres of bogs on their land. Our chartered bus drove us to 4 different bogs on the property, including the world’s largest cranberry bog (which is 75 acres large). We got to see both dry harvest and wet harvest. The wet harvest looked just like an Ocean Spray commercial! (Not too surprising though since A.D. Makepeace is an Ocean Spray grower)

Dry harvest

Wet harvest

After the tour, we wandered around the gift shop and ate our boxed lunches at picnic tables on the property. Then we got back on the bus and went to Keith’s Farm. Nothing says fall in New England like apple picking!

My roommate and I brought home 10 apples from Keith’s Farm. At the market at AD Makepeace, I also picked up a ½ pound of fresh cranberries and a ½ pound of apple juice sweetened dried cranberries. I see lots of cranberry and apple flavored meals in my future! These recipes are catching my eye:

BU students can be notified of future sustainability events like this one here. BU Dining makes an effort to embrace the sustainable food movement by putting on educational events such as this field trip, as well as making a commitment to incorporate more sustainable food products and practices. Below are some highlights of the BU Dining sustainability initiative:

  • 28% of BU food purchases are sourced locally (within 250 miles)
  • Monday menus (“Make a Difference Monday”) are based around local, sustainable, and organic foods
  • Dining menus incorporate fair trade coffee, cage free eggs, and sustainable seafood
  • In 2011, the GSU diverted 73% of waste from the landfill by recycling and composting
  • A farmers market is held on campus Thursdays during September and October

-Kelly