Maple Syrup Story

2018 was our second year of collecting maple sap.  (You can read about last year’s experience here.)  In late December, we tapped three maple trees on the hill beside our house.  For most of January and February, we collected sap each time there was a flow.  Checking the buckets involved hiking around the hill, which was easy for the kids; but when the buckets needed to be emptied, I required a walking stick to manage the climb.

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Finding a bucket half full of sap was exciting!

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After emptying the metal bucket into a plastic bucket to bring to the house, the sap was poured through cheesecloth to remove bits of dirt and insects.

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Because we were only getting sap from two trees (The third tree never did flow.), we decided to freeze all the sap and boil it down at the end of the season.  Over the two months, we collected approximately eleven gallons of liquid.

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A little over a week ago, when I had a full day to be close to the stove, the boiling process began.  Around 8:30 AM, I started two stock pots on medium-high heat.

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Throughout the day, when there was more room in the pot, more sap was added.  At around 9:00 PM, the sap had boiled down to one smaller pot remaining.  By a little after 10:00 PM, the sap was thickening; and when it dripped off a spoon in a sheet (similar to making jam), we had syrup!

From approximately eleven gallons of sap, we ended up with one cup of syrup.

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A few days later, we ate our own maple syrup on homemade pancakes and waffles.  While my husband and boys enjoyed the taste, our daughter and I felt like the syrup had an “off” flavor.  I’m not sure if I cooked it a bit too long, or if we could have collected some sap on a warmer day, or if the taste varies from tree to tree.

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The experience of processing maple sap to syrup was fun and educational.  I have new respect for the time and effort that goes into processing large quantities, and I now understand why the cost of real maple syrup is high.  Every season is a learning process, and we look forward to trying again next year!

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Green Potato Soup

This January we have had some cold days.  A bowl of warm soup seems like a good idea to counter the cold.  Yesterday, with snow falling steadily and the prospect of a free evening, I decided to put together a pot of soup using a variety of items I had on hand.  Taking ideas from three different soup recipes in my favorite cookbook Simply in Season, the following recipe was created.  The soup is filling, slightly creamy, and flavorful.  I asked our children for ideas for a name for the soup, and so “Green Potato Soup” it is!

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Green Potato Soup (Serves approximately 12 people)

4 medium potatoes

2 turnips

2 celery stalks

2 carrots

1 onion

2 garlic cloves

handful of fresh parsley

bit of fresh oregano

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

1 can cut spinach, 27 oz.

2 cups brown rice, cooked

1 cup loose sausage, browned

1-2 T. pickle juice

1 tsp dried dill

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 can evaporated milk, 12 oz.

Put potatoes, turnips, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, parsley, and oregano through food processor until minced.  Place all ingredients except for evaporated milk into a 6-quart pot.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add evaporated milk and stir.  Serve and enjoy.  We had cheese toast with it. The children had two and three bowls each, and we ate the leftovers for lunch today.

 

 

 

 

 

Tasting of Joy and Sorrow

It has been an eventful holiday season, one with a variety of experiences and emotions.  Over Thanksgiving, my parents and brother spent several days with us.  The men worked on projects including siding and electrical around our house and the camp.  The women and children baked Christmas cookies, some to eat and some to give away.  We feasted, played games, opened some birthday presents, hiked around looking for wild horses, gazed at a beautiful water fall, and had some good discussions.  The time was extra special because my brother had just come out of prison after three and a half years.  He talked of taking pleasure in the simple things of life: working hard, spending time with family, and enjoying nature.  He seemed really well, and we all had hopes for a fresh start.  He returned home, found a job, was working hard and long hours, and spending time with his children.

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Thanksgiving Dinner
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Hiking at Dingo

Early December 11, my parents called to tell us that the coroner had appeared at their door, that my brother had been found dead, most likely of a drug overdose.  He was thirty-four years old.  The shock was profound: life forever changed, hopes dashed, family altered.  Over the next few days, plans were made; and many people reached out.  There was the hustle and bustle of visitation, the funeral, and the burial.  Various emotions came and went: sadness for what could have been, grief for what has been lost, anger for wrong choices, questioning addiction and how God looks at all of this, comfort in God’s mercy and the peace He brings, joy in the love shown by family, friends, and acquaintances. In some ways, it all still seems a bit surreal, like a bad dream from which one hopes to awaken.

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A blessing from our Sunday school class.

But life goes on: December 18, our oldest turned sixteen.  For several years, he has been anticipating learning to drive.  A few days later, he passed his permit test.  A new adventure begins!

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Sixteen Candles!

Christmas this year was spent with my husband’s family in Ontario.  We enjoyed reconnecting with his parents, siblings, and their families.  With the temperatures in the single digits and several snow falls, we surely experienced winter.  We quickly realized our shoes were of no use and ended up wearing boots the rest of the time there.  The children and their cousins enjoyed indoor hockey and volleyball, sledding, and riding around on GT snow sleds connected to an ATV.  Some of them shoveled snow and helped with farm chores as well.  The snow made the towns and countryside look beautiful, but my husband was glad to leave all of the driving in it behind!

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Hockey!  (Our four are in the middle.)
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Shoveling off the Deck (Notice the thermometer: -8 C, one of the warmer days!)
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Walking in a Winter Wonderland (Photo credit to my husband)
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Beautiful countryside (Photo credit to my husband)
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Blue skies/ cold temps (Canadians can be hard-core: Look at those sheets hanging!)

Today, as we are on the verge of a new year, I am thankful for God’s grace and provision through the past months.  There have been joyous times, and there have been days of sorrow as well.  Through it all, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

Garden Bounty

I am grateful to report that our gardens produced well this year.  The green beans and tomatoes have been especially plentiful resulting in a level full deep freeze.  We were also able to enjoy lots of fresh lettuce and greens and some carrots.  There were enough peas to put some in the freezer and a decent crop of potatoes and onions.  Herbs included mint, parsley, oregano, cilantro, and dill.  A variety of squash and a few cucumbers were harvested.  Peppers are still waiting to be picked.  I am hoping they will turn from green to yellow before the first frost.  Lima beans are still flowering and filling out in the pods.

At one point in September, when I had run out of room in the freezer and felt we had enough for our purposes, I decided to join our farmer’s market for the day.  Farmer’s markets are something I enjoy visiting, but I really love setting up a table.  There is a joy in providing a product that other people desire and in sharing knowledge of produce and cooking ideas.  People seem to want to share their stories:  both customers and vendors talked of life’s sorrows, tough times, and joys.  Our daughter came with me, and we had a great day.  We had small amounts of beans, herbs, squash, tomatoes, and flowers.  We sold some of everything, but the real surprise was the hydrangeas I had cut on a whim.  They sold out quickly.  Next year, I hope to participate more often in the market.

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A few days ago, I noticed the beauty and variety on our cupboard counter.  The vegetables came from our gardens, most of the canned goods were a gift, and the nuts, we picked up on the trail.  Gracious provision from our Creator!

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Vacation and Return

After full weeks of hosting summer volunteer groups, I was feeling spent; so having a time of relaxation and renewal was a blessing.  As a family, we experienced spiritual refreshment at Roxbury Holiness Camp, relaxed as we experienced Chincoteague and Assateague, and reconnected with family in a variety of settings.

At the ocean, the children frolicked in the waves both with and without boogie boards and created sandcastles on the beach.

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My husband and I enjoyed the water and sitting under an umbrella.  There is something quite soothing about the sound of the waves on the seashore.

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One morning, we climbed the winding stairs to the top of a lighthouse.  The view was amazing.  I felt dizzy as we peered over the railing.

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After a time away, it feels good to be home.  I was so glad to see that the gardens are still producing.  We picked green beans, corn, tomatoes, carrots, beets, squash, a cucumber, parsley, and various greens.  Fourteen quarts of beans were added to the freezer.

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Tonight we enjoyed a crock pot meal made of many ingredients from our garden including potatoes, onions, squash, tomatoes, parsley, and oregano.

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Praise the Lord for His gracious provision!

Gifts from the Garden

The garden is yielding its bounty.  After several harvests, there are twenty-eight quarts of beans in the freezer.

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The red beets should have been harvested sooner.  Even though they are pretty large, I plan to make some fermented pickled beets with them.

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I was going to wait to harvest the carrots, but I decided to pull the ones that were poking up through the wood chips.  In the four places we have gardened, I have never grown carrots this long.  I am thinking the wood chips really helped to amend the soil.

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Thank the Lord for His good gifts!

Glimpses of Summer in the Mountains

Beautiful blossoms are attracting the butterflies and bees.

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The other day, I noticed this tree blooming.  The blossom is like a bristly feather fan.

We have got quite a stand of mullein growing out of an old pile of coal at camp.

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The string beans are bearing: both Roma and wax.  The second picture, which I think has interesting perspective, was taken by our youngest.

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A friend dropped off a solar dehydrator for us, so I am experimenting with herbs and greens.

Interesting mushrooms are growing under the oak tree beside our garden.  I think they might be edible, but I am too cautious to try them!

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An afternoon at Martin’s Fork Lake was a welcome break from the heat we have been experiencing.  I had forgotten how beautiful the view is there.

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Cherries

Cherries are a beautiful fruit and a rare treat.  It was a blessing when our neighbor on the trail offered that we could pick cherries from her trees.  My husband and I picked the first time.  The fruit was so ripe that many of them left their pit behind when plucked from the tree.  While we were picking, the birds scolded us, reminding us they were waiting for their turn.  After removing the seeds,  I put away four quart in the freezer; plus we ate about a pint mixed with plain yogurt.  Later in the week, the children and I picked again.  This time I managed to slide all the way down the hill on my bottom while holding the bucket and not spilling any cherries in the process!  We gained another quart and a half to make two pies for our summer staff supper.

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Snapshots from the Week

The last few weeks have been full with finishing the school year and preparing for our summer season of volunteers; but it was fun to arrive at camp and find the peas, potatoes, and greens we had planted in April pushed up through the soil.  I was able to harvest a few radishes and salad greens, and we have pulled enough strawberries for the six of us to each have a few.

The iris, which is my favorite flower, were in full bloom.  I found a wild one blooming at the edge of the woods.

The children and I got the summer vegetables planted: beans, corn, several varieties of summer and winter squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers.  Teamwork made the job go quickly.  Our oldest pulled back the wood chips with a hoe.  Our daughter and I planted the seeds, and our two youngest boys took turns covering them up.  At the end of one row, we uncovered a salamander which the kids found to be a fascinating diversion.

Later in the week, after all the vegetables were planted, we were grateful for a lovely, soaking rain.

One morning, the clouds were rolling in over the camp; and I had to stop and thank the Lord for the beauty of the sky.

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That same morning, I admired the colors of our breakfast fruit salad.

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Our oldest spent quite a bit of time in the shop working on wooden creations.  This was his first chiseled piece.  Later, he made another and was excited that someone bought it.

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A few snapshots from the week!