Forage Friday #87 Maples

Hello Friends! Tonight’s Feature Image is titled “October’s Flame 102220” and is available for purchase by clicking the thumbnail and reaching out to me on the contact page.

Please remember that Forage Friday is presented as trivia and not to be mistaken for medical advice.

I’m completely convinced that there’s no finer breakfast aroma in cold weather than that of warm maple syrup, Buckwheat pancakes and a side of bacon. In fact, it’s my firm belief that the only way to improve bacon is when that syrup runs off the pancakes and gets on the bacon. Of course it was a staple of our ancestors who needed that calorie count to get through the morning chores and today it’s common for the syrup to come from a farm. But in the old days true maple syrup involved quite a bit of work. It takes a whopping 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup! Today we see tubes running through a cultivated forest with filters and valves to control the flow into collection vats. The sap isn’t cooked but it is evaporated and condensed into the gooey sweetness we enjoy today. The system has to be inspected constantly for air bubbles and impurities. Even with all the modern technology and techniques it’s a huge amount of work. But in the old days everything was done with a tap and a bucket. A family that just wanted a little something to sweeten with or to make special candies for the holidays had to invest a tremendous amount energy for a relatively small reward. However, if one wanted to put in the effort maple syrup can be foraged.

First, we need the right kind of maple for best results. Syrup can actually be made from any maple tree however the concentration of sugar means that for the red maples you have more water and therefore more energy has to go into collecting larger amounts of sap that will be heated for a longer period of time. We’d also need to consider how we heat the sap. Heating as much as 60 gallons of sap for a red maple based syrup means that much more fuel, gas or electric and still would only produce one gallon of syrup. So sugar maples are preferred. When the leaves are on there is a trick that I was taught in a dendrology course. Sugar is spelled with a U and sugar maple leaves have a U shape in the creases of the leaves.

Sugar maples are not always yellow in fall but normally do have a U in crease of the leaves. Both the yellow leaves and the orange leaves in tonight’s Feature Image are sugar maples.

Sugar maples also tend to have brown or tan twigs where the red maples tend to be red. Red maples have a V shape in the creases.

Red Maple leaves showing the characteristic V shaped creases and red twigs. Notice also that the leaves on this tree are both red an yellow.

I’ve never made maple syrup but I imagine that the process is pretty close to molasses. A large pan is filled with sap and low heat is used to evaporate the water out of the liquid while impurities are skimmed off. For a better look at that process check out the article on Making Molasses from fall 2019. It’s a time consuming process and hot working conditions to do it right but it’s far superior to the “Table Syrup” or “Pancake Syrup” sold in massive quantities at big box stores. Which often nothing more than maple flavored corn syrup with caramel food coloring. If the label lists any ingredients other than maple syrup then it’s not maple syrup. Fortunately for those of us who don’t have the time to invest in foraging our own maple syrup an entire cottage industry has sprung up based on small scale producers who are insistent on only selling the real thing.

Maple seeds are often something asked about when it comes foraging. They are available in massive quantities in the Appalachian Forest so it makes sense that someone would be interested in taking advantage of them. Here’s where we need to examine the definition of “edible plant”. Are maple seeds toxic? No. But according to Tom Brown Jr they’re only edible if you’re willing to grind them up and slow cook them for hours because they are so hard.

There are some medicinal qualities listed on the internet for sugar maple. The information is centered around the inner bark and as expected it’s said to aid in treating diarrhea ( probably due to tannins found in most trees. ) and in a cough syrup. The inner bark was used to treat sore eyes as well.

Before closing tonight I do want to give everyone a heads-up that there will be no Forage Friday post on Friday December 25th and most likely no post on Christmas eve as I’ll be focused on spending time with family over the holidays.

Good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.

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