Wishin and Soapin’, Running and lovin’…

So I thought I’d put out an update of how things are progressing, and fortunately it is all good news (unless you ask my wife that is).

Starting with soaps, I’ve gotten the first batch out as you know.  The Orange spice has a great aroma kicking up in the bath every time we use it.  Sadly though, we’ve burned through it in about 2 weeks, and far faster than I expected.  Since then I’ve come up with both a second and third batch.  The second was my ode to the Woodshop, with scents of Pine, Fir and Cypruss with some self rendered tallow in the base, and a small kick of ground pepper.  That’s still curing until the end of July so no test washes just yet.

The latest batch (3rd) was a nicely scented Lemongrass.  Lots of Lemon, lemongrass, and bits of lemon rind to round it out.  Smells wonderful!  I tweaked my base formula to make the soaps a bit harder, so while it loses some of the Conditioning qualities, I think it needed hardness more to make ‘em last longer.  I think I’ll whip up a coffee based soap, or perhaps an Oatmilk Honey next :)

As for running, here come the good depending on your perspective.  In a nutshell, I’m still going strong.  Just ran tonight as a matter of fact.  But, the wife doesn’t like how my feet are getting very Caveman-like.  Toes are spreading, and they’re getting wider.  A little wierd, but my back issues have all but disappeared as a result.  I’m finding however I have a mild case of Plantar Fascitis.  As a result I’m going back & forth between shoes & barefoot sandals.  There was a Moonlight 5K in New Milford I managed to run, and despite the light on & off rain I managed to get a decent time.  Nothing spectacular to be sure, but I was happy to have run my first and finished it.  On to the next, here in wonderful Woodbury come Sunday.  If all goes well I’m shooting to run this one in the barefoot sandals too :)

Its funny when people see me walking around in them.  Lots of comments, and I think overall people are interested, but its hard to tell if they’re humoring me, or if they’re genuinely curious as to what it entails.  In either case I don’t mind spreading the word around.  What works for me isn’t for everyone, but I’ll chew your ear off about it if you’ll let me :)

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The First Rule of Making Soap Is…

DO NOT TALK ABOUT MAKING SOAP!!

Actually, there are tons of online articles – so here’s mine.

Perhaps I had my own project mayhem to uncover, or perhaps I liked the smell of bubbling Olive Oil, or perhaps I just wanted to give the wife a nice creamy bar for a reasonable price.  In any case, I started with looking at how it is made, then looked at the ingredients I already had.

I came across a few handy dandy articles, beginning with the Art of Manliness, which is what got me thinking about this in the first place.  In a nutshell, you take fats & oils, add diluted Sodium Hydroxide (Lye), and voila!  I’m not sure how, but the lye breaks down the oils in  a process called saponification, which in turn creates what we call soap.  Different oils yield different results.  Some moisturize better, some produce more bubbles, and others create a harder soap.  From that article I picked out a decent soap ratio from another site, plugged it into a soap calculator, and it was a matter of locating more stuff to mix it together.

Since we had some Orange essential oil, I thought to mix up a bar of my own version of Orange Clove.  Most of the ingredient oils we already had for cooking, but finding some Palm Oil was a bear.  Eventually a tub turned up at Whole Foods, labeled as vegetable shortening.

To save some bucks I picked up the pot and mixer at the local Goodwill.  Wooden spoons came from the dollar store, and in the end I have lots of leftovers for my next batch.

Once the oils hit 95 degrees on the stove and blended together, I slowly added the lye mix.  After about 30 minutes of mixing, it all thickened together, and I added in the orange, bergamot, and clove essential oils, and hard ingredients like orange peel and coriander powder.

I had prepped a wooden mold I built the week before, by lining it in parchment paper.  The pancake-like mixture was poured into this, covered, and left alone for 24 hours to cool and form.  

It is still semi soft at this stage, so this is when the block is cut up into bars.  I had measured out dimensions of 1.25″ thick X 3.5″ long X 2.5″ wide.

Once they were cut up, I laid them out to cure.  Because you use a chemical to create them, it can be pretty harsh on the skin otherwise until it finishes the reaction, which while mostly done, will complete over time.

Some people say you can use the soap after two weeks, but others say waiting a month is best.  As for me, I was too giddy (or maybe it was the fumes), but I gathered up some of the soap chips from the cutting and lathered up.

The proof is in the pudding they say, and it seems to lather up like a champ.  Of course, my skin dried up like a senior in the sun afterwards, and I needed lotion on my hands like when I was a teenager, but I was pretty impressed overall and can’t wait for the month to go by for the finished product.  The scent is what I was shooting for, and I’m looking forward to making other  blends.  I think a Woodshop one, an earthy Vetiver, and a Lemongrass are in order.  Woo-hoo!!

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Barefoot update

My feet hurt.

Not exactly unexpected, but here I thought I was taking it easy.
The other day I had purchased and received some Invisible Shoe running sandals.

I was all excited to use them as my feet have been tenderized on the tiny road pebbles.

So I strapped in, and took off.  Running was definately a bit easier, and it seemed I could focus more on the running itself, than worrying about the abuse on my feet.

As I approached the turnaround at the end of the road, it felt like the burning lungs I’d get from running – wasn’t really there.  In fact, I felt like I was in a  rhythm where all I needed to think about was moving my legs, and the discomfort had passed.

My guess is that I got too cocky here.  On the way back, I could feel my right arch starting to feel pains, and the top of my left foot (tendon?) was beginning to throb.

No problem, I thought.  I’ll tough it out and finish my run and be the better man for it.

That was not the way to go.  After stopping and resting a bit at home, I began to hobble.  I could barely walk down stairs with weight on my left foot, and my right arch felt like it needed a serious massage.

To the internet I went, and I found that despite what I thought was taking it easy – I probably was not.

Most people say to start out easy with the barefooting at one quarter to one half mile at first.

That seemed pretty paltry to me, so I pushed it to around a mile and then just over within days of starting out.

Turns out it isn’t just your soles needing to toughen up, and just your arches and muscles accomodating the change, but you actually run different, and that can affect your feet differently in turn.

Needless to say, I think I’ll run 3/4 mile barefoot to the end of the road, then slip on some regular shoes and keep going from there.

If I only get such small amounts of barefooting it’ll help my feet, but doesn’t do much for overall exercise, so my hope is the shoe running will allow for that to happen.

Time will tell :)

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Born to Run – Barefoot??

I am a barefoot runner.

There – I’ve said it.   Now some of you are scratching your heads, or asking ‘why?’  Or ‘what does that mean?’  Or even ‘Are you crazy?!’

Let’s go back to the beginning here.

You see, growing up I was fortunate enough to live near the woods and fields.  I can remember spending hours and days, and perhaps even a week, walking around barefoot in the summer.  We would run to our friends down the road, run to the pond through the fields, or even biking around the neighborhood.  All while wearing not a sock, shoe or flip-flop.  It was glorious.  Not much at the time, but looking back I loved it so much.  It was like a feeling of freedom.  Squishing through the mud.  Feeling the grass blades underfoot.  And I just… didn’t care to wear anything.  My parents left me well enough alone, so I pretty much was able to do what I wanted.

Years later, and just a few months ago, a friend on Facebook posted a picture of new shoes he had gotten.

The second I saw them, I had to ask what they were.  They seemed a bit bizarre, and yet made sense without knowing anything about them.  He tipped me off to a book he had been reading by Christopher McDougall, ‘Born to Run.’

I downloaded an audio copy (I listen to them while I’m driving to & from clients in the car).  But I didn’t have a chance to listen to it, but added it onto my own personal queue.  A few weeks later I got around to listening, and was completely engrossed.

In a nutshell he talks of how mankind’s natural instinct is to run barefoot.  All people all across the globe do it on a regular basis.  Some say that is why we were able to evolve as a species, and surpass the other mammals.  Not only that, but by wearing shoes it prevents a natural gait and stride, limits the arches our feet were designed for, and can typically cause more problems the shoes are meant to resolve by means of added support.

I was sold well before I reached the end.

I’ve had back problems for years.  Much of this stemmed from a snowboarding accident (Cernik!!)  Though I’ve been managing just fine with Chiropractic help.  But unfortunately it makes running difficult, and my back begins to hurt if I run further than 200 feet.  Not so with barefoot.

I decided to take the plunge last week.

The recommendations, more than anything else, are to ease into it.  If you’ve been running for some time, you’ve already got the stamina to keep going, but your arches and soles may not be quite so prepared.  Tales are common of people doubling over, miles into their run in pain.   My chiropractor was even less kind when I asked him for his opinion of it, and he dismissed it ‘as a passing fad.’

Having little running experience, other than those two months back in college, and my love of nature and hiking, I made sure to start off easy.

I stripped off my shoes, decided today was the day, and ran out the front door.

Next thing I know I’m at the end of the driveway, and I just kept going on the pavement down the road.  Now most people (myself included) think how painful this could be.  But you see that is also why you take it easy.  Your soles need time to toughen up, and your eyes can be your greatest asset as you dodge the rocks and pebbles that can cause the sharp quick stabs on your undersides.

Before I knew it, I was at the end of the road, and turned around and headed back home.  All in all, a short 1.2 miles per mapmyrun.com

The next day was Saturday.  Nico had his soccer practice, so I took it upon myself to scoot around the grassy fields.  Per the same site, my 5 laps equaled about 1.5 miles.  A little easier on my feet this time thanks to the comforting grass and cushioning soft earth.

And that brings us to today.  A run on main street with the kids on their bikes, and taking turns with Michelle holding the dog.  The time went by quickly, but I certainly felt it on my feet far more this time.  1.82 miles, per a new Android app EndoMundo (thanks Will)

3 days down, and I can feel the difference.  My toes have small blisters on them, and hurt for no less than 2 hours after finishing the runs.  To top it off, what I thought was a blister on one, turned out to be a rock embedded in my foot. But I haven’t given up hope.  McDougall’s book centers on people living in Mexico called the Tarahumara.  They run with thin soled sandals, that allow the natural feet to capably run, while protecting against small rocks and such.  Needless to say I’ve already ordered a pair at InvisibleShoe.com.

My hope is to run a 5K either barefoot or with the Tarahumara sandals.  Either way, I’m not only getting in shape, but able to enjoy it too.  For the first time in years, I’m really looking forward to running… barefoot :)

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To Bock – Or Dopplebock??

So for no reason at all, I’ve been on a Bock kick for the last few weeks.

I think the weather had something to do with it.  A few warmer days had come and gone, the piles of replenishing snow had nearly disappeared, and new stock on the shelves.

Bock beers are traditionally made German style for the spring.  Its a nice refreshing change from the darker beers you drink in the winter months, but enough sharpness to make you click your tongue.

This year I thought, I’ll see how many I can try.  Bocks seem to e divided in 3 ways.  You have the golden bocks, amber bocks, and dopplebocks.  These tend to have richer deeper flavor as it darkens into the dopplebocks (double strength).  If you take your traditional lager, and brew it longer with additional malts and hops, you’ve got a Bock.

Of all of them, the two I picked up first ended up my favorites – Sierra Nevada Glissade and Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock.  Both golden types and both just make you smack your lips after it snakes past your tonsils.  The Einbecker was a tad lighter in the glass, but plenty of flavor regardless. Though the german brand is much harder to come by than the Sierra Nevada.

Beyond that came the canned Naragansett in a close third, followed by the Yuengling, Leinenkugel and the Anchor.

Both the Naragansett and the Anchor surprised me the most here.  The Naragansett more because it was more of a stronger, tastier craft style (6.5%ABV), and that their only other beer I’ve come across was a weak lager in a Budweiser vein.

The Anchor more because it was disappointing.  I had read some other reviews, and lots of people liked it.  Me?  Kind of – meh.  Darker than I would expect of a Bock, and easily dark enough to be a dopplebock, but without the higher ABV.

On to the Dopplebocks!  These are like the bigger bolder cousins.  Think about what the monks had done for lent back in the day, when they gave up everything and survived on this beer style alone.  (Just like this guy)

I’ve tried a few here and there in the past, with Aventinus being one of the best examples, along with Smuttynose S’Muttinator. But I was looking for ones that were more unknown to me so I tried these three.

As with much of the Victory beers, I enjoyed their version the best.  A deep well rounded dark lager you slow pour into a wide glass, and slowly smiled at.

The Sam Adams was good, but I like some of their other Imperial series beers representing better.  The Hooker?   Not bad.  Not great either, but a good beer nonetheless in a stronger package (that’s what SHE said).

So there you have it.  Just my humble opinion.  Find some.  Drink some.  Come up with your own conclusions – I think you’ll enjoy the trip :)

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Wood Meets Shaving – Brush & Razor Holder

So when I began my shaving excursion I had picked up a shaving brush and razor holder.

I’ve always liked wood, so I picked out one by Col Conks.

Using this as a template, I decided to build my own.

We have a number of Red Cedar trees in our yard, and they fall over and die once in a while.  So I went and cut out a length, and shaved down the sides until I had a post.

I placed the template one next to the post and traced it out, and using a coping saw I made the curve match up.

I then cut out some 1/2 inch slices along the grain from the cutout, prepping it to use for the brush holder itself. To mount this though took some doing, and I setup a jig with 2 clamps to brace the curve and allow me to cut out a section for the holder.

Once that was done I cut out the center hole for the brush, pushed it into place and Voila!

All set, and just like the original but a bit chunkier.

I’m tempted to coat it with some Tung Oil, but then that would hide the cedar aroma.  Ah well.  Gotta love the smell, and it will only add to the shaving experience.

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Born Again Shaving – Week 4 update

So here we are.  4 weeks into spring, and 4 weeks into my latest hobby.

I’ve got some experience under my plate now, and a better handle on what I’m doing wrong, and what I’m doing right.

Probably the best thing I could recommend, is get some help!  There is a lot of resources out there, and I’m really starting to like the people at Badger & Blade the best.

One of the posts I came across was one of those time machine ones.  You know – the one where if you knew what you know now and could start over again – what would you do different?

Lots of good answers on this one here.  Check it out for yourself.

Along with those posts I also stopped by the only area shaving shop for some advice.  Gentlemans Best over in Southington CT.

After some talking with Ray (hell of a guy by the way,) I’ve decided to try a few things to make life better.

First tip – stop changing things around so much.  I’m hopping around from one soap to the next before I’ve gotten a handle on how to manuver the razor around my face.  Plus I’m still figuring out how to best gauge and build up the lather.  Best bet is to stick to the same soap for at least a week before I switch out.  I’m going to work my way through one whole sample to the next from now on, rather than one bit here and there.

Second tip – after shaving, splash a hot water rinse on and pat dry, apply Witch Hazel, then splash cold and pat dry again, then balm or aftershave.  The warmth helps sooth, the hazel tightens things up, and the cold makes it all close back up nice.  So far so good on that point.

Third tip – change up the razor blade once a week or every other week.  Not just to keep things sharp, but also change out the brand after 2-3 weeks.  After similar soaps at that point, you can get a better gauge on whether a new blade brand is working out or not.  So far my jump from the Merkur to Derby’s is one I should have done earlier.  Remember different blades work better or worse for different people.

Fourth tip – Lots o’ soap!  When you’re using shaving soap (as I’m leaning towards), let a tablespoon or so of water soak on top before you dip the brush.  It makes it much easier to load the brush, and easier in turn to lather it up.  You can always add water back in.

I think I’m ready to up my brush to a better quality one, and I’m working my way through the many samples.  I have to agree that Mama Bears Soaps are still pretty darn good, and my favorite brand thus far.  A nice smell, good lather if you soap the brush enough, and my face seems to like it too.

I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.  Know any good tips you’ve come across?  Share yours as well!

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Shaving Soaps And Creams – Ask And Ye Shall Receive

Samples Baby!

So now, at the 3 week mark since I’ve begun using a Double Edge Razor, its time to figure out what kind of soaps I should use.

It all comes down to personal preference in the end.  Some soaps and creams are easy to whip into a lather, while others have a great scent.  Some let the blade glide  on your face easily, and still more have quality oils and moisturizers to minimize razor burn and make your face feel as good as it looks.  Depending on what you really want, you’ve got lots of choices.

I’ve been reviewing some forums and sites including the comments at Amazon products, The Shave Den, Badger & Blade, Shave My Face, and The Shaving Room. There are your high end products, mid range, and inexpensive ones.  Now to be fair, you can get a great soap and lather with an inexpensive brand just as much as the expensive one.  Sometimes marketing plays a big role.   There are a number of fans of Mama Bears Soaps, yet her handmade soap pucks are just under $8 for 5oz.  On the other hand people also say that G.F.Trumpers Lime Cream is the best, yet that runs $17 for a 2oz tube.

Much as different people have different preferences, no brand can really fit everyone to a tee.  In a nutshell, use what you like.

I like a good strong scent.  But more importantly I need to have a lather that can glide over my face of coarser and thicker hair than most.  I’ve seen some people alluding that certain soaps work best with more pre-shave preparation such as using a facial oil or moisturizing cream just before applying the lather.  Or even mixing it in with the lather, but after having used a hot towel.   In my mind, the more you have to do in advance, the poorer the product.  By all accounts all that should be needed is a hot shower, or wrapping a hot towel around the face, and splashing additional water on just before you lather up.

So this was my perspective.  I had purchased my razor with some soap from Col Conks at Amazon right from the start, and later looked over the counter at the CVS and found some VanDerHagen Select soap as well.  A few reads later, and I’m over at the Crabtree & Evelyn at the mall, and find they sell out frequently.

Then, on the way out the door, the saleswoman hits me with inspiration – samples!

Why spend $8, $18, or $28 on soap you won’t like, or that won’t get it done the way you want it to?  I set my mind to it to get samples for $2 or less wherever I could (most were free.)  Crabtree & Evelyn couldn’t give me the hard soap sample, but I was able to get some of their shaving cream and some aftershave balm to boot.  Bath & Body Works?  No samples, but they did have a small tube of the C.O.Bigelow for $5, and they offer a money back guarantee that lets you try it at home and return the unused portion for a full refund.

In a mad rush I began emailing and visiting sites of all the brands I’ve read about.  Col Conks said ‘Sure!  Just send us your address!’  G.F.Trumpers said they don’t give away samples, but offer a whole pack including after shaves for about $5 shipped from the UK.  Mama Bears Soaps offers samples, but as she has so many scents, she charges a nominal dollar for a good sized soap chunk of the preferred type, enough for perhaps 2-3 shaves.  I heard back from Taylor of Old Bond St, but they don’t do samples at all.  ”Too much effort for such as small amount,” is what they said.  Well, that’s about all the effort I’m putting into getting some of their soaps then.  Paid, sample, full size or otherwise.Manly men use real shaving soap!

So now that I’ve begun receiving a few of these, I’ll be sure to let you know the results.  Hopefully I can better judge the quality and what works for me better, as my technique and experience improves.  If nothing else, the variety of scents has me more excited than ever, to grab that brush and shave away.

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Old School Shaving – A Lost Art

So now that we’re out of beard season, I’ve begun regular shaving once more.

I’ve never been a big fan –  always going for as many days as I can without looking too much of the caveman variety.  Besides which it was a pain.  Literally, when I went for more than 3 days, and the blades pulled more than sliced the hairs.

My Shaving GearI ran out of fresh blades so I went to the store to pick some up.  I know the prices have been heading north, but this time they’ve gone too far.  $22 for a 4 pack?!  I’ll be lucky if it lasts 2 months!  I had enough, and decided to go Old School.

I’ve been interested in straight edge and double edged razors in a nostalgic “how they used to do it” way, but it always seemed such as hassle to me on the surface.  After reading a few articles and watching some videos I finally decided to take the plunge (Mantic59 has some really good ones)

Going this route means an investment that can last years, and save you money in the end.  You’ll need a razor, a brush, some soap or cream, a bowl or mug, and probably a stand.

Most everyone likes the Merkur brand of razors, and other than a few variants the basic models come in a regular or long handled version.  You know what they say about big hands?  So I got the long handled model (180), along with 10 spare Merkur Double Edged (DE) blades.

The next big item is the brush.  Gotta go Badger on this one (check the link).  Authentic Badger hair brushes hold water very well, which helps hugely when you’re whipping up the froth.  FYI though they stink.  It smells like wet dog the first few times you use it, but it wears off eventually.  They range in type and prices from $13 on up to $150.  A really basic Boars hair brush can be picked up at your local pharmacy, but for just a few bucks more I got a very highly recommended Tweezerman “Best” Badger brush that ranks with ones 4X its price and has a lifetime warranty.   I’ve heard stories of guys getting high end Silvertip on eBay for less than $30 if you keep your eyes peeled.

I mentioned to my wife to be on the lookout for a thrift shop mug or bowl, and she surprized me with an equally inexpensive bowl she saw at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.  The lion faces on the side were what drew her in, but I appreciate the way the base can be held in one hand, and that the sides roll back in a bit keeping the lather contained.

A stand is pretty much optional, but if you’re looking to stick with this, I would recommend getting a decent one to keep the brush dry.  Metal ones work well, but I always like wood and found one on Amazon.  A little pricier than I would have liked, and doesn’t fit my razor too well, but a drill bit later to widen the handle channel and it works just fine.

Now the final choice – the soap or cream.  This is what really got me most excited once I got the process down.  The biggest difference between the canned stuff and this, is that these all have good moisturizers and make shaving faaaaaarrrrr better.  The choices are simply endless.  Sandalwood and Cinnamon or Musk with Tabac?  Citrus and Lime or Lavender?  Cream or soap?  Many of the soaps are purchased within a container or wooden bowl, but this is used for storage, while the mug or other bowl is used to prep the lather.  Initially I used some Colonel Conks Bay Rum soap, then some C.O. Bigelow shaving cream, and then some Van Der Hagen Select Shaving soap.  The Conks was my first batch, so while it worked out in the end, it was too runny and too watery due to my inexperience.  The C.O. Bigelow is loved by many people as the state side version of Poraso – a well respected Italian brand.   I thought as a cream it was easier to whip it up into a good lather.  The Bigelow has a decent scent with Eucalyptus, and tingles with Menthol.  As for the Van Der Hagen it is easily the cheapest at just $2 a puck, and whipped up just fine once I got the hang of it, but frankly it is bland compared to the others.  No tingle, no scent,no nothing – just gets the job done with a basic soap, and it looks like I would burn through it pretty quick too.

Now as for the shaving part, I seemed to do pretty well.  My problem was getting a decent lather up.  After 3 shaves and twice that in attempts to bring about a nice foam, the key I’m finding is to use just a bit of water, but not too much.  I start by soaking the brush in super hot water in the bowl for half a minute or so.  Then I dump the bowl, shake the water off the tip in a pumping action, and swirl the brush onto the soap puck until I get lather started (a minute or two).  Transfer this to the bowl and swirl away some more, and within a few minutes you’ll have a nice thick dense foam.  Add a little water if it seems difficult to whip away.

Keep going if you see bubbles, and you’ll go from this:

Loaded with Soap …To this: After a beating

Slap this on your face, while grinding it in circles.  This raises the hairs, preps and moisturizes the skin.  Let the razor glide on your face rather than pressing in, and work in sections.  Rinse with cool water to close up the pores and follow up with a decent aftershave or balm (no alcohol, read labels!)

Now it wasn’t an overnight transition.  I’ve read, and seen myself that it takes your face about 2 weeks to adjust.  You’re shaving the hairs now, not the skin on your face, but the razor is far sharper.  Expect a few scrapes, red streaks, and blood patches until you get the hang of it.  I would shave at night if I were you, otherwise your coworkers might wonder how the rest of the household survived the attacks.

After having toughed it out now though, I would have to admit it is indeed the best shave I was never looking for, nor expected.  But compared to the past, I now look forward to shaving, and seeing if I can improve my technique.

Go ahead – take the plunge!  Your manhood demands it!!  :)

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Making Maple Syrup

Maple buckets on the treesLate February into March…  what do you think of?

After getting the paper cuts and allergic sneezing fits on Valentines Day, and trying multiple times not to repeat Groundhog Day, I think of pending Spring and tapping the trees.

Now some people think of maple syrup as nothing more than a condiment you put on your baked goods.  Growing up however, it meant a whole process, that ended up a wonderfully thick, golden, sweet and tasty spread.  I grew up in North Salem NY.  It was known more for raising horses than raising children, but thankfully we were fortunate enough to be surrounded by open land and woods.  Right next to our home, was the biggest sugar Maple tree I have yet to see bested.  This, along with many others on property, were tapped and collected into buckets to make maple syrup.

So first, if you’ve never tasted real maple syrup, you’re in for an exquisite treat.  While similar to the fake stuff, it isn’t nearly as sickly sweet, but rolls with an undescribable warm goodness you have to try on your tongue, to understand.

The process is far simpler than most people realize.  Basically you drill a hole into the tree, hammer in a tap spigot (which you can get online or at area hardware stores), and hang a bucket off of it to collect it.  Of course you should put a top on, and drill a hole into the top to allow it to drip – otherwise you get too many bugs, or too much rainwater mixed in.  Once you have half a 5 gallon bucket or more, you strain it through some cheesecloth into whatever collection device you have.  I use a very basic, 30 gallon spare garbage bucket.  Now it sounds a bit nasty, but I make sure to clean it first, then line it with a new, also clean garbage bag.  Once you have a decent amount of time, pour it off into a big pot and boil away!  Any worries about bacteria or further nasties get scalded off with the water vapor.

Boiling the syrupNow the professionals use things called evaporators, that take the process to a highly efficient stage.  I myself however, use your basic lobster pot over a contained fire using spare fire bricks and the grate off my outdoor grill.  Not exactly pretty or highly efficient, but it certainly gets the job done.

So once you have it boiling, keep in mind, maple sap collected is little more than all natural mildly sugared water.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% sugar content in the sugar maples and less content in others.  Boil it down at a 40:1 ratio and you get maple syrup (as in, 40 gallons of sap make 1 gallon of syrup).  The easiest way to tell when it is done, is to note how thick it is as it gets condensed and the water evaporates.  The other more accurate way, it to add 20 degrees onto the boiling point of water on any particular day.  This varies depending on air pressure and weather conditions, but generally it will be done once the sap/syrup reaches 120 degrees.

At our home we’ve collected the mason jars from pasta sauce, and use these to save the syrup.

This past weekend, since I’ve just begun collecting and it is relatively early in the season, I’ve tapped just 3 trees and gotten about 10 gallons of sap.  After an all day fire, and time spent chopping wood and keeping it roaring, we’ve ended up with about 1 and a half 32 ounce jars, or about 3 pints worth.

At every pouring stage you need to filter using cheesecloth and a mesh strainer, which complicates things, but makes it all the worth while when you got a full stack of homemade pancakes and a slow waterfall down the sides of the good stuff.

P.S. – Bite me Mrs Butterworth.

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