Box-elder syrup comparison
I was stunned by the productivity of the one box-elder tree we tapped --- after a single bright, sunny day, our two-gallon bucket was nearly completely full!
I usually cook down my
sap in stages, letting a pan of the liquid sit on the wood stove until
it's partway cooked down, then later combining that sap with other
to cook up a larger batch of syrup. But I wanted to know right off the
bat whether box-elder syrup was worth making, so I took our bucket full
of sap and cooked it all the way down over the course of 24 hours. The
result was a quarter of a cup of syrup that lacked the bright gold color
of maple syrup and the delicate vanilla-like scent, but tasted every
bit as good. (Mark said the box-elder sap might be slightly less sweet
per unit volume, but he still licked his lips after the taste test!)
I realized in the process
that I'd never actually gotten a comparable figure for how much syrup
we get out of sugar-maple sap, so I took the half gallon of sap that
came from our sugar maple during the same time period and cooked it
down, resulting in an eighth of a cup of syrup.
For those keeping track
at home, that means my box-elder sap-to-syrup ratio is 115:1, while the
sugar-maple sap-to-syrup ratio is 64:1. On the other hand, we got nearly
four times as much sap from the box-elder during the same time period,
so actual yields of syrup from the two trees were twice as high for the
The good news is that we
have hundreds of box-elders within easy tapping distance. The bad news
is that, if we go beyond tapping a tree or two at a time, we actually
have to put effort into the operation. Mark asked me to estimate how
many human-hours it took to create half a cup of maple syrup (what we'd
produced in January) and I figured about an hour, if that. The reason
the project has been so un-time-consuming in the past is that the sap
bucket is right on my daily walk, so it only takes a couple of minutes
to swap out containers each day. After that, the sap just sits on top of
the wood stove, which we're running anyway to heat the trailer, so
energy use is also kept at a minimum. For larger amounts of sap, we'd
have to make special sap-carrying trips and figure out some way to cook
down the sap efficiently (probably outside).
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We'll have to put some thought into the right size for our own syruping
operation --- the sweet spot, if you will. In the meantime, I'm
experimenting with maple-syrup recipes for the next volume in the Farmstead Feast series and am taking suggestions. Other than poured over pancakes, what's your favorite way to eat maple syrup?