Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
March 30, 2021

Sugaring Season at Oliverea Schoolhouse Maple

Sugaring Season at Oliverea Schoolhouse Maple

Oliverea schoolhouse maple is a 4,000 tap maple farm owned and operated by Herb Van Baren. We tagged along for the day as he tapped trees and pumped sap to be boiled down to 1,000 gallons of Catskill Mountain syrup!

This episode was sponsored by WIOX and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway.

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Welcome back to cats cast the BI weekly podcast featuring nature arts and culture in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. This is prime maple sugar time when nights dip below freezing and warmer daytime temps lead to flowing maple sap. I'm her van Baron. Most people call me van and I'm just a farmer from Oliver you all every school house Maple owner, proprietor. You know I started out with just a couple tabs here and I'll vary and the next year I saw my neighbor Tom, he had some sugar maples. So I asked him Can I tap your trees and you know eventually I got enough taps and I left my job up at the YMCA and started doing this full time. I am the sap King of shandaken. This week we check in with her van Baron, a maple sugar here in the Catskills. Cats cast is supported by wi x Community Radio Live and local in the Catskills reflective responsive and supportive at 91.3 FM MTC, cable channel 20 wi x radio.org and with any smartphone radio app, Alexa, play w IO x. And by the 52 mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the central Catskills for maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations. Visit scenic catskills.com these trees I've been tapping for 1015 years at least. That tree right there with the three taps on it. I wish I had 1000 of those because that is probably the best running tree in the entire valley. So runs great it has a wonderful sugar content. One of my favorite trees. With the exception of being a grocery store cashier in his past, Van has spent most of his working life outdoors. Today even among over 2000 other producers in New York State. He is one of a handful of sugars producing Ulster County syrup commercially. I first met with van on a late March day in 2014. To see his syrup production process. He brought me on a tour through his various sugar bushes in the area and showed me his solo setup to make that delicious Oliver Rhea schoolhouse maple syrup. He also shared with me the potential value of sugaring at home, along with some tips on harvesting your own SAP. You can see free half a tree like that you get almost 10 gallons of sap from three taps in one day. And 10 gallons of sap will make a pint of finished syrup. See that 30 days you got 30 pints that's a lot of syrup from one tree. New York State has the largest population of tappable maple trees in the United States. So if you're in New Yorker, you may just have access to a sugar bush in your own backyard. Anyone wishing to make their own maple syrup can do so with tools around to their house and a maple tree in their yard. However, the hardest part says van is removing the water from the sap through the boiling process. When you have a way to boil it down at home if you were to tap any trees or how long does it take you down depends on how much SAP you have and it can take hours you have to have the time to do it and get a candy thermometer and maple syrup boils at seven and a quarter degree above the boiling point of water for that day at 66% sugar. maple trees can produce SAP for years if they are kept in healthy condition. In many cases, they can be tapped for decades, Vann has been tapping the same trees here in the Catskills. For more than 20 years, the amount of SAP that you're getting out of the tree is really no problem for the tree whatsoever. It's kind of like you getting a little cut, you get a small section of compartmentalization inside the tree. So you're introducing a little bit bacteria and mold and fungus into the tree. And that's why you have tapping guidelines as you don't want to put too many taps in a tree because then your mods will take a chainsaw and girdle it because you're going to kill it within you know, 1020 years. And it's blowing. There is what I like to see. And yeah, when you tap you want to have your drill bed at a slight upward angle into the tree. And that's not to get the sap out because the sap flowing out because you have high pressure inside the tree kind of like if you shake a coke can. When the reason you tap up into the tree is when you pull the spiral at the end of the year. Water can't collect in there. If you tap down into But that'll just hold water, you'll get even more damage to the tree. And this tree I've been tapping for 20 years. These guys here then uses a vacuum pump to help draw SAP through a web of plastic tubing connected to each tap. Unlike classic gravity fed SAP collecting methods, this method of extraction nearly triples the amount of SAP drawn from each tree. Open two valves. And then if you go over there, you can get this app coming in the tank. This is a gas power except pump but water transfer pump. What's coming out of the tree is 50%, co2 50% SAP. So that vacuum pump is actually pulling the co2, not the sap. That pump will run on a gallon of gas or run for nine hours. And in that nine hours in a good day, I'll collect a mas 800 gallons of sap out of here. So that's a pretty good investment. When it's flowing really hard. It's like a garden hose coming off the mountain. And I've had it where these three tanks, I've emptied them at 11 o'clock. And I've come back out at four o'clock in the afternoon, five hours later, and the tanks are full 1000 gallons of sap and five hours from 1200 tap. That's pretty impressive. That's not happening today. And that's my cold evening. nice warm, that's a cold evening and a nice warm day. And yeah, just perfect conditions. In New York, the perfect time to harvest SAP is from late March until Knights get too warm to freeze the sap before the daytime thaw. And it's best to be in the days in the mid Upper 40s nights in the mid and upper 20s. And a good day, these tanks will be full to the top and a really good day. And they hold all 300 gallons each. But then when they're full, they spread out so it's more like 350 that's a wonderful sound is that dumping looks pretty substantial. Some of it too, could be the sap from last night, frozen the lines, sometimes your first verse that you get is just the stuff that's thought out that while I'll stand here and wait a little bit to make sure one that when it dumps The releaser is actually working that that mechanism isn't getting stocked and two that I'm pulling on this one, about 20 inches of vacuum and now we're pulling 18 which could mean there's a leak somewhere it could just mean there's so much SAP in there that it you know take a little while for the vacuum to catch up. And what usually causes the leaks. tubing coming apart gear chillin on and tubing, squirrels schroon on tubing, coyotes chewing on tubing, bears chewing on the tubing, Big Foot chewing on the tubing. All kinds of different stuff. You if you look at this one here, you can kind of see this app in there and it's hardly moving. That means there's not a leak here. If it were shooting through real fast and that there's a leak, turn the pump off. Right now I'm running about 2% sugar from my last year bush haven't tested this one but if you see it's foamy, this is a little higher sugar content. I'm guessing this is maybe two and a half. So that would equate to under 40 gallons of sap to a Finnish gallon of maple syrup which is good. I normally end up somewhere around 1000 gallons of finished product normally as the season progresses to share content goes up and then toward the end of the season and drops back down again. Sugarbush collection of you know can be 10 trees, it can be 10,000 trees. And normally old Sugarbush. You'd have all the buckets and they'd have the horses with the sleigh. And the horses would know their way through the trees. So now Sugarbush is mainly defined by tubing. So how many trees you have on tubing going into a centralized collection tank, so they share bushes 70 taps, two taps in each tree so 3540 tree. Next van took me to his Sugar House where the syrup takes its final forms. In this sugar shack tree sap is boiled down to the delicious sweetener we know as maple syrup. Next step is to pump the sap from the truck to the two tanks that feed the reverse osmosis machine. This is my hired help in my reverse osmosis machine. Reverse Osmosis machine that takes up 70 75% of the water out of the sap before you boil it. And most of the time that technology you use is used for water purification, we get rid of water and keep the sugar. Basically the way this works is I'll have 1000 gallons of sap and the two are Oh tanks. And there's a water pump underneath and then a high pressure pump. So this app comes in, and once it gets up to 40 psi, just with their regular water pump, I turn on the high pressure pump. And there's a nanofiltration membrane in this stainless steel housing. The water molecules are small enough, they can pass through the membrane. But the sugar molecules are so large, they don't pass through the membrane. So depending on how many gallons per minute you have going through the pressure that you have, I can go anywhere from you know, concentrate to only 4% sugar to concentrate up to 10% sugar in one pass, this row will take basically 1000 gallons of sap will get turned into 250 to 100 gallons of concentrate. So instead of having to boil for 10 hours, I only have to boil for two or three hours. And that time can be spent out in the woods getting leaks getting more SAP or just you know having more SAP and boiling longer and making a lot more syrup. Since this interview, New York State has changed its grading system for maple syrup, having added flavor profiles to the grading system. Here, Vann explains the different colors of maple syrup, what the grades mean, and what influences the color of maple syrup. Basically, in New York State now there's five grades of maple syrup, three or Grade A table grade, to light Amber, medium Amber, dark Amber, anything darker than dark Amber, but still has a good flavor and good taste, as classified as extra dark or proper classification is extra dark for cooking. But anything that has a bad flavor to it, or you added too much defoamer or, you know, you let the sap sit too long and the sap went sour. That's classified as grade C or commercial and that you can't legally sell retail. So that's that one and a half percent real Maple flavor that you get in quarantine junk. And those three grades of A is just a matter of personal preference. Basically, yeah, Lady amber has a little more delicate flavor to it. Dark amber is definitely more robust maple syrup. And you know, some days I'm in a light mood and some days I'm in an extra dark mood and what influences on color. Well, the main thing is bacteria in this app, the more bacteria you have in the sap normally later in the season, when it's warmer, the bacteria chew up the sucrose, which is the sugar in the SAP and do a little bit of glucose and fructose, that carmelize is under the heat of the evaporators you get a darker color. At the same time, they're breaking the amino acid strands of lignans that give them maple syrup, it's Maple flavor, so you get a stronger flavor. or later in the season the trees metabolism is changing. So you're starting to work your way toward what's called buddy maple syrup. And that gives it a much stronger flavor. Some people they describe it as like a woody, kind of earthy flavor when I'm running it through the filter press. I'll take a sample of it and I'll check it for grade I'll check it for sugar content with the refractometer and then I'll taste it to make sure it tastes good. So I do lots of shots and maple syrup. That's how I can stay up you know two three days straight. And then also later in the year say November I open up a barrel and I have to bottle it for an order I do the same thing I checked the grade I checked your content and I taste it before I put it into retail container then. So how much maple syrup Do you consume each year? Couple gallons. I go through a lot of it more than most people do I guess. What do you use it for besides pancakes? I don't use it on pancakes. I don't like pancakes that much. I put it on my Cheerios. vans Catskills famous Oliver area schoolhouse maple syrup can be found throughout the region. Hudson Valley residents can find it at the Woodstock farm festival. New Paltz, farmers market, the Phoenicia, diner, and more. And if you're not in the Catskills no worries van ships is maple syrup worldwide. Cats cast is a production of silver hollow audio production intern Skye ruse wrote and produced this episode. Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found, and give us a rating to help other listeners find us. Until next time, you can find us on Instagram at cats cast. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening 

Transcribed by https://otter.ai