Yesterday, my mom called and asked if we wanted to meet at our “regular meeting place”. That has become Sprague’s, a terrific restaurant I have mentioned on my blog before. I was especially excited, as they are actively “sugaring” during the month of March. Yesterday didn’t work out, so Mark suggested today. Although disappointed at first, it worked out great, as today the temperatures soared close to 60! A beautiful day for a ride!
We decided to meet early today…..at 11 am, as opposed to later in the afternoon. This restaurant is a very popular spot, and people travel for miles to eat there, no matter what the season is! So, to avoid the long lines, my mom thought if we met early, perhaps we could get seated quickly.
When we arrived at the restaurant, my parents and brother, Randy, had already been seated. So, we were able to get right in and sit down. Randy, Mark, Michelle, and Ben all opted to go for a breakfast while my parents and I had salads. Ever since I was sick, I have been craving salad.
We ate, and as always, the food was so delicious! This restaurant is huge, and the fact that they can consistently serve top notch food all the time is mind-boggling!
After finishing our meal, we went outside where we began a fun adventure!
Behind the restaurant, there just happens to be a sugarbush where some of the delicious maple syrup they use in the restaurant and also sell begins the process of transforming from sap to syrup! (inside the restaurant there is a huge area where syrup is made, but is inactive on Sundays) In the picture above is a big open tank where sap is fed through plastic lines from the trees. The little blue tank at the top, is actuated by pressure, releasing the sap into the tank. In this shot, I happened to catch the sap being released. There was a man at the tank to answer questions….he told us that the sap is always clear, but because the temperature was warm today, the sap was a yellowish color. When this tank fills up, a truck will come and pump the sap into a tank on its back take it to be processed.
On the right of this picture are two hoses leading into the pvc elbow below. You can watch the sap splash into the clear tube, then go into the pvc….it then drops into the blue tank. Once that is filled, a float opens a valve, causing some of the sap to fall below into the large tank.
On this table, there was a display of tools used in tapping trees as well as some taps that can be used. There was also a display of the various types of buckets and tap mounts used for sugaring.
Ben, my parents and I hopped aboard this really comfortable wagon, drawn by a tractor, to take a ride through the sugarbush to a sugarshack at the top of the hill.
As we ascended up the hill, I snapped a shot of the back of the restaurant where much of the sugaring paraphernalia is stored. When I asked, I was told that the outdoor furance on the left side of the picture heats hot water for the restaurant, as well as supplying heat to part of the (huge) building!
On the grounds, there are numerous wood carvings of bears….this one was so cute!
Upon entering the sugarshack, we were greeted quite warmly….literally! Ben said he kept feeling something dripping on his head! I explained to him that when the sap is boiled in the evaporator, the water contained in the sap escapes in the form of steam. The steam had gathered on the beams of the building and was falling like rain!
This is a head-on look at the evaporator…it is two levels. The upper level in the back is where sap is fed directly into the tank. As it boils, it is then released into the lower tank. The sap enters the left side. As it thickens, it moves along the four sections of the lower tank where it is finally dispensed as syrup. From there, it is moved on to another machine where it is filtered.
I happened to be fortunate enough to be able to back into the woodshed as the attendant loaded the firebox of the evaporator. As you can see, it takes a really hot fire to keep the sap boiling. This is an operation that doesn’t begin at 9 am and end at 5 pm. The man here told us that his boss worked until 3 am this morning. The processing requires eight men to tend to the lines, taps and operation. And, as soon as the door was closed on the firebox……….
The sap really began to roll into a turbulent boil! Notice the center! Also, the steam increased to a thick fog! The attendant told us this can be dangerous, as the boiling sap can crawl up and over the sides. The solution? He picked up a plastic condiment bottle filled with vegetable oil. He added one drop and the boiling mass settled down!
Here is the backside of the sugarshack.
And the front with so much steam escaping through the top vent.
It was hard to leave the warm and cozy atmosphere of the sugarshack. The dog in the picture is one of the owners’ two golden retrievers. They make themselves quite comfortable in their familiar surroundings. Before leaving the premises, we had a sample of syrup. They had dark, medium, and light so everyone could try the different grades. They also had delicious freshly made maple doughnuts! YUM!
Although this sugarshack is so romantic and beautiful, we were told only a small portion of syrup is made here. The majority is made at the processing center located in the same building as the restaurant, using oil as its source of heat, rather than wood. We learned that Sprague’s produced 1700 gallons of syrup last year, and 2400 the year before. The goal, which has yet to be attained, is 3000 gallons. We also learned that because of the roller coaster weather this year, the production will probably be rather meager.
My parents took the wagon back down the hill and Ben and I walked along one of the wood chip lined walkways to check out a large teepee we saw in the sugarbush.
It was here that we learned that the wife of an indian chief near Lake Champlain noticed sap running down a maple tree. She gathered some of the sap and rubbed it on some meat, making a very tasty treat. The rest is history!
This exhibit shows how the indians used hollowed out logs to gather sap from the trees to make syrup. There is also a tap made from wood, but it is merely for exhibit purposes. The owner, not wishing to gouge a huge hole in the tree used a small tap inside the wooden one!
The sap was then placed into another log that had been hollowed out. And, hot stones were removed from a fire and placed into the sap to make syrup.
After adding the heated stones, the attendant encouraged us to “sniff” the steam. It smelled just like cotton candy! What a tedious and time-consuming way to make syrup!!!
Yet another wooden woodland critter!
Along the paths through the sugarbush were signs with maple syrup trivia and stats!
At the bottom of the hill, there is a large display with several bobwhite quails.
On the grounds of the restaurant, there is a very large pond with a pair of swans that reside there. Randy, Ben, and I hiked down to the pond to see the swans. Although much of the pond was ice covered, there was a section of water and the swans were so beautiful to see, as always!
Now, as I was looking at Ben, I could just see the wheels turning in his head. He disappeared for a bit….he had gone inside to the gift shop to inquire about buying a tap for gathering sap. The man who is normally in another area of the building where taps are sold was not there, so the girl gave Ben a tap!
As soon as we got home, Mark and Ben looked online for a few instructions and……..
It appears part of this year’s homeschooling experience will involve the science and economics of producing maple syrup!