How to Prune

Cass let me borrow heavily from her book on pruning for this section. So, if it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, that's the reason. In addition to the information here, you'd find Cass's entire book helpful. Also you can get bulletins from your local extension service, get other books, and take classes. Pruning can get really complex, and pruners don't necessarily agree with each other about even basic principles. There's a lot more to it than learning how to spread open young limbs (some people use clothes-pins) or to shore up old limbs with 2 x 4s to keep them from breaking.

Tree Surgeon's Hygiene: With fire blight in mind, Frank advises: "Certain plant diseases can be passed from one plant to another on your pruning tools, so clean them periodically while you work. Use a rag soaked with a bleach and water solution (1 part bleach per 10 parts water) to . . . wipe the cutting surface of your tools. For small jobs, you can use a paper towel soaked in isopropyl alcohol, which is the ordinary rubbing alcohol and available in a drug store. If you are making cuts on plants which are clearly diseased [like fire blighted], clean your tool after each and every cut to prevent spreading the disease to healthy plants. And, of course, after every pruning job, clean your tools with your cleaning rag before storing them away. Also clean them with your sterilizing solution before beginning any job; someone else may have used your tools on a diseased plant without you being aware of it."

How a Tree Heals: Research suggests that none of the "wound healers" on the market really help much. A tree does its own healing, and it heals by creating a barrier against the injury that rot won't get through. A tree doesn't fill in the wound with replacement living tissue the way people do. It just puts a wall in there and does the best it can with what's left at that site. So leave a "rotten" hole in a tree alone. Don't gouge at it. Because under the rot is the layer that stops it, and you don't want to cut that open. Pruning Away Fire Blight: Fire blight is a misery of a disease that can afflict many temperate-zone fruit trees. If it's a problem in your area, prevention of fire blight is a 3-part program: First, avoid feeding excess nitrogen to fruit trees because succulent young growth makes them more likely victims. Secondly, avoid any but the most necessary pruning. Finally, avoid unnecessary watering. Keep an eye on your trees, especially from bloom until fruit, because next to prevention, early detection to bring fire blight quickly under control is the best.

If blossoms, twigs, and leaves on your tree die and turn black but stay on the tree, you have a case of fire blight. You may also see mummified fruit and cankers. The cure is a radical pruning away of all the infected wood. Inspect care fully to identify all branches that are infected. They are a total loss. In addition, cut a foot beyond the infection because the bacteria tend to be working somewhat ahead of where their damage is visible. Keep in mind that the branches, leaves, even twigs that you're taking off carry the problem organism, so don't handle the blighted areas and then touch the healthy tree. Keep the blighted cuttings away from the tree. As soon as you have them off, move them well away from any orchard trees. Burn them in a hot fire so they won't spread disease. And disinfect!

But hopefully, all your pruning will just be routine procedures.

Pruning Definitions

Whip. This is a young tree that has no branches, or one that someone made to look like that by cutting back all the branches to the main stem, leaving the top intact but no side branches.

Pinch. It is less stressful for a tree to have new sprouts pinched off as they form rather than pruned off when they are larger. Pinching maintains all the leaves possible, which helps to feed the tree, yet halts all unwanted new growth. But this method takes much more time than pruning since you have to pinch regularly during the first few weeks of new growth.

Central Leader

Open Center

Central Leader. The single, central tree trunk that grows straight up is your "leader," sometimes created artificially by pruning. The goal of creating a strong central leader can be assisted by "training" the tree while it's very young. But, sooner or later, you have to quit the struggle and let the plant go as it will.

Weak Crotch Strong Crotch

Crotch. This is where a branch connects with the central leader. If a branch is very upright, making quite a narrow angle between it and the trunk (less than 40 degrees), it's called a "bad," or "weak," crotch and is a candidate for pruning because bad crotches are weaker and more likely to break when laden with fruit than branches that leave the tree at a wide angle. The pruner knows that heavy, long, very horizontal limbs, especially when fruit-laden or heavily blown, are more likely to break off than more upright ones, so such branches are also candidates for pruning. Lateral Scaffolding. The "lateral" or "scaffold" branches are simply the side ones that grow off the central leader. In general you prune a tree in its first few years, allowing only 4 or 5 main branches to come off the leader. You want them to be spaced nicely on the trunk, not to be on exactly opposite sides of each other, and not to have too acute an angle (weak crotch). You do that pruning only once and you're done. A "well-trained" tree is good for climbing. On the other hand, if you want eventually to put a tree house in your tree, train for several branches that grow out near the same spot.

Head Back. To cut off the end of a branch or the top of a central leader is to "head back."

Sucker. Some people use this word to mean both suckers, which grow from the underground or bottom trunk part of a grafted tree, and watersprouts, which grow straight up from higher portions of the tree. (Cass uses it to mean both.)

Water Sprouts

Apical Dominance. The last bud on the end of a branch is called the "terminal bud." It releases a chemical that travels by gravity and keeps the other buds on down the line rather subdued. It's the boss bud. That's called "apical dominance." When you cut off the terminal bud (or even pull it over), the chemical flow is disturbed. That causes the other buds to begin to grow.

timing: Here's Carla's simple system for pruning: Don't prune any the first year. After that, you can prune once in the spring and again in the fall. Prune when the leaves are off the tree. Don't remove the lower branches of dwarf trees;

there won't be any higher ones. Here's Cass's much better simple system for pruning!

Pruning of young fruit trees (under 6 years) is done to develop strong, low framework branches and not much else. In fact, it may take a while longer for your tree to fruit. Go easy in the early years. Don't prune too much (no more than % total leaf surface) in any year. Old trees can be invigorated by heavy pruning to produce new wood and spur systems, although you may experience a temporary drop in production when you cut off older and lower limbs. But don't try to fix it all in 1 year. If you have a tree of any age that needs a lot of work, do it over several years.

Summer pruning of fruit trees is all right if the tree is vigorous and healthy and well-watered. Summer pruning can be useful for spotting dead wood (no leaves). It can be useful in reducing the spread of fungus-bacterial diseases that like damp weather, and it will help reduce suckering. It generally slows the growth rate and will help restrict the size of your tree. But summer pruning is harder on the plant, so go easy.

NOTE: Never prune during a drought. Basic Pruning

1. First, and always, take out all of the dead wood.

2. Take out the worst crossing, rubbing branches.

3. Take out the worst wrong-way branches. These are the ones that start on one side of the tree, head the wrong way through the center, and come out on the other side.

4. If you have a grafted tree, carefully prune off any suckers growing up from the roots or out from around the base of the main stem below the graft line.

5. Take out some, not all, of the suckers and waterspouts. (Fruit trees can develop a whole bunch of shoots— suckers or watersprouts, reaching for the sky.) Cut some out altogether. Leave some alone (don't cut off the tips), since they will flower and fruit and be pulled over and produce more spurs later. Head back some suckers to thicken them up into second-story branches. Try to head back to another upright side branch and not to a horizontal branch that would sucker back madly. Thinning back some of the branches, especially toward the top (even a few big branches) increases light penetration and lowers your tree. This helps ripen the fruit lower down. It increases air circulation, too, which is important in order to discourage the numerous bacterial and fungal diseases that spoil the fruit.

6. The conventional wisdom for regular pruning is to remove weak crotches. Both horizontal connections and very narrow crotches may be vulnerable. The preferred connection is wider than a 45-degree angle, but less than a 90-degree one.

7. But to encourage more fruiting on your apples and pears, prune for more horizontal branches. Horizontal branches bear more fruit than vertical branches. You can head back laterals to force more spurs to form.

8. Mature fruit and nut trees can be pruned to let more light into the tree. That will make for larger, better harvests.

9. Too much pruning can weaken your fruit tree enough to result in sickness.

Removing a Tree Limb. First find the "branch collar." That's a little doughnut-shaped bulge at the base of the limb. Don't cut so flush that you cut through the middle of the branch collar. Cut just out from it. That will end up being almost flush, but not quite. The reason it's important not to cut the collar is because cutting it opens up the tree trunk to rot. If you can't see where the collar is, just leave a little space for an assumed presence of one. Pruning for Fruit Production. Certain kinds of branches make more fruit buds or spurs than others. These are the ones that are situated in a not-too-horizontal position. You can pull or push new branches into such a position, or you can just start cutting out the ones that aren't in the right place and leave the ones that are. Nature makes fruit by sending up a young, straight-up soft branch. It flowers on the tip, and the flower turns into a fruit. The weight of the fruit pulls this supple branch over. As a branch gets older, it stiffens in a more horizontal position. As the branch tips over, the apical dominance of the terminal bud weakens, and buds farther down the branch are released to form nice little side branches (laterals) and on them, teeny, tiny V^-inch branches called "spurs." These spurs have fat flower buds (fruiting buds) rather than skinny leaf buds. We want the laterals and spurs.

In the winter, it is the fat-budded spurs that you see on trees that make you think what you're looking at might be a fruit tree. You can encourage some, but not all, of your side branches (laterals) to make spurs by heading (also called "tipping back") to 2 or 3 buds. This works on pears and apples, but it doesn't work on cherries.

If your main branch gets pulled too far over—past 90 degrees—apical dominance is diminished, too many buds are released, and those miserable suckers start charging back up. In some senses pruning fruit trees breaks all the rules for ornamental tree pruning. You try to keep your tree small, something that should never be done to other trees. Pruners often reduce fruit trees dramatically, which would be extremely bad pruning on a maple or oak. We also head a lot. We head side branches (laterals) to force them to make spurs. We shorten major scaffold branches with heading, especially young ones, so that they won't swing in the wind and lose fruit. Heading causes these branches to get fatter or stouter. We need stout branches to hold up heavy fruit. On apples and pears, especially, we do a lot of heading. Peaches, nectarines, and Japanese prunes really like it when we whack and whale. However, don't do it to your cherries or European plums.

Cass's Pruning Categories

Prune Hardest: You can, and should, both head a lot and prune most on your peach, apricot, nectarine, and Japanese plum trees. Prune Medium: Cass suggests that good trees to practice your pruning on are apples and pears "because these trees are so forgiving." Keep young apple and pear trees short, she says, head laterals to encourage fruit spurs, and prune medium. Prune Least: Cherries and European plums are hard to keep short with pruning. No topping, no heading of lateral is appropriate for these. Love them as they are or train early by bending branches. pruning Errors: The most common errors when pruning fruit trees are, first, topping and, second, creating umbrella trees. Topping is bad for any tree, including fruit trees. The suckers that shoot back up from a topped fruit tree not only will be ugly; they are also too busy trying to get enough leaves back in order to feed the tree to make much fruit.

Dealing with Suckers. You may have a forest of suckers that are the result of previous bad pruning. If you remove all of the suckers, they all come back. So leave some to dominate the rest, shorten some to create a second story up, and thin out the rest. The reason why you "leave some to dominate the rest" has to do with that botanical phenomenon of apical dominance.

Reducing the Height of an Apple or Pear. As you work, keep in mind apical dominance. Thus, it is a good idea to cut back a tall vertical branch to a shorter branch that also faces upward. Basically you are not trying to eliminate all vertical branches; you are simply replacing them with shorter, younger, and fewer vertical branches. This retains some apical dominance and allows the tree to grow a little every year. It's like a volleyball game—you rotate out a few of the tallest old suckers every year.

Instead of topping, many orchardists choose to reduce the height of apple and pear trees using the "drop-crotch" method of lowering trees. Drop-crotching means you selectively head back to a side branch of a decent size, say one-half the diameter of the parent stem. This is hard on the health of old trees and opens them up to rot. Trees 15 years or younger withstand this height-reduction better. Drop-crotching reduces the amount of sucker growth, as compared to topping, but does not eliminate it. Umbrella Trees. Don't create umbrella trees with ugly, sucker-laden crowns. An umbrella tree is made when the pruner cuts to an outside branch year after year, which is called "bench-cutting." But the typical state of many old fruit trees is an umbrella, which is all right if the umbrella is low down on the tree where you can get the fruit, and if you don't care how it looks. But often the umbrella occurs high up on the tree, shading out the fruit below. In that case, you'll want to fix it. The problem is terminal buds that are too low. Gravity prevents the chemical from reaching buds down the line, so a crown of suckers develops at the top. To help keep your old apple tree from excessive crown suckering, thin back low branches to get a branch facing more up and out. To do that, pick out a major (scaffold) branch and follow it with your eyes. Does it dip down quite far, crossing other, lower scaffold branches and cluttering things up? Then you may selectively head back (prune) to one of its side branches that faces more upward and outward (40-60 degrees is ideal). The scaffold branch now ends in a boss bud with greater apical dominance. This will reduce the number of returning crown suckers farther back as well as improve the looks of your tree. grafting: To learn how, watch a neighbor do it, take a grafting course, hang around at a nursery, or read Grafting Fruit Trees (Storey's: 802-823-5810;; or Plants-a-Plenty, by Catherine Osgood Foster.

Sugar Trees maple Varieties: You can gather a sweet sap from just about any maple variety although the sugar maple, Acer saccharum, is most frequently tapped. If you live in a state bordering any one of the Great Lakes or in the Northeast, you should be able to grow sugar maples and tap them. You can grow them other places too, but tapping won't be as successful. Your altitude is an important factor. Between 600 feet and 2,500 feet is best for sugar maples. For good sap production your climate has to have a big difference between day and night temperatures in the spring. Maples don't produce much sap where winters are mild.

There are other sweet-sapped maple varieties besides the sugar maple that will grow from California on north to Alaska, and they grow over much of the eastern United States south to Alabama and north to southern Ontario and Quebec. The black maple is almost as good to tap as the sugar maple. The Norway maple comes in right behind the black. The sap of red maples has only half as much sugar as that of the sugar maple, and the syrup isn't as fine, but it can be used. The Rocky Mountain maple, big-leaf maple, silver maple, and big-tooth maple all may also be tapped.

Sugar maples are excellent summer shade trees and glorious in the fall with red, yellow, and orange leaves that make the ground look like it's covered by cool fire. They're hardwoods that grow 50-100 feet tall.

Sugar maples aren't the kind of crop you cash in on in a hurry. They are planted more for your successor than for you because they take so long to grow—about 30 years or more to get large enough for tapping. And if competition for space is tight in your planning, also keep in mind that each maple tree will produce only about 1 or 2 qt. of finished syrup per year. So it may not be worth it to you—or to your successor.

planting and Growing: Sugar maple seed is available from William Dam Seeds (905-628-6641; www.dam, and it's okay to grow them from seed. Or propagate by budding. Country Heritage (PO Box 536, Hartford, MI 45057) sells 4-5 ft. started trees. In the West, Burnt Ridge Nursery sells them. Don't prune your sugar maples much. They produce best if they have lots of branches. Trees spaced 35-45 feet apart produce the most sap, but keep some young ones coming in between there as eventual replacements. One way to thin maples is to use a portable sap tester, which tells you the sugar content of each tree. Then you can thin out the less-sweet trees. Another option is to plant your maples both for tapping and for timber. In that case put them 20 feet apart. Less sap but more trees to tap will add up to the same sugar harvest, and you'll have a bigger eventual timber harvest. Maple Sugaring Info/Supplies: Storey's offers a booklet, "Making Maple Syrup," and a book, The Maple Syrup Cookbook (802-823-5810; Check out The Maple Sugar Book, by Helen and Scott Nearing, and Syrup Trees, by Bruce Thompson (1978). Sugaring supplies of every sort, books, and a free catalog are available from Leader Evaporator Co.: 802-524-3931; 802-524-4966; fax 802-527-0144; 25 Stowell St., St. Albans, VT 05748; [email protected]; www.leaderevaporator. com. A person can spend almost nothing or thousands of dollars on sugaring equipment, depending on your inclination, how many trees you're trying to keep up with, and whether you are producing for home use or for commercial sale.

Incidentally, don't expect your homemade syrup to taste just like store syrup, which is merely flavored with the real thing. Maple syrup is the most expensive natural sweetener on the market—because it takes so much sap to make a gallon of syrup (33-40 gal. at 3 percent sugar content), the tapping season is short, and the trees give but not copiously. But if you have maybe 14 or 15 trees to tap, you can have a nice home-sugaring operation.

Identifying Sugar Maples: Since you're most likely to be tapping from trees that you didn't plant, you may not even be sure if you have sugar maples and which of your trees they are. In yards, you'll have to distinguish the sugar maple from the Norway maple. In the woods you'll have to distinguish it from the red (or soft or swamp maple). In that case get somebody who knows to point them out to you and put a splash of bright paint on each designated tree so you don't forget. Even an experienced mapler, however, may have difficulty distinguishing sugar maples in winter and spring. Fall is the easiest time. So be sure and get your trees to be tapped marked before fall is over, while their distinctive foliage is still on. Tapping Maples

When to Tap. You tap your maple trees in early spring, around the first March thaw, generally mid-March to mid-April. Be careful not to tap prematurely. Some old-timers suggest to tap 1 month before your snow is usually gone. You can get some sap in the fall or any warm winter day but not nearly as much as you will during the spring run. The important determinant isn't the calendar; it's the thermometer. The right weather is a freezing night followed by a sunny day, with a temperature of at least 40°F Take wind-chill into account: more wind requires a higher temperature. It's traditional to try to get all your buckets up in one day.

As soon as you have tapped, the tree goes to work healing the wound and closing off your supply—takes it about 4-6 weeks. If you accidentally tap before the weather has really settled into a spring pattern and the days turn freezing again, your sap supply will temporarily stop and you'll lose some tapping time once it does start to run again. How to Tap. In addition to tapping the right kind of tree, you need to tap a tree of the right size. Don't tap a maple that is less than 10 inches in diameter. For each 6-8 inches of tree diameter more than 10, you can add 1 tap, as many as 2. (Newest research shows you should limit yourself to 2 taps per tree.) The hole in the tree is bored with a hand drill about 2 feet up from the ground (the lower, the better) and about 2 inches deep. (The hole has to be deep enough and the spout placed in it firmly enough so that even a heavily loaded bucket won't pull the spout out.) If the hole into the tree is angled slightly upward, it will help the sap run out. Sugaring suppliers sell 7/i6-inch bits, which match the size of most commercial spouts. But a Ys-inch or Vi-inch bit can be made to do. New tapholes are drilled every year.

Ann Moran wrote me: "Sap shows in the end of the twigs, usually in late winter if the winter was mild or in the earliest spring. The hole in the tree is bored with an auger. New tapholes are drilled every year and into each hole you insert a hollow metal spout and from that you hang a bucket. A really big old tree can have as many as four buckets on it. So the sap goes up the tree trunk and out the spout and down into your old-time bucket and then every day you should collect the drippings from each tree and take them to the sugarhouse for boiling down. If you've only got one tree go ahead and tap it. Boil the sap down on your kitchen stove and you'll have about a pint of maple syrup. It takes a lot of sap to make syrup."

Into each hole you hammer in a hollow metal spout with a sequence of light hits, and from that you hang a bucket. Be careful not to hammer so hard you split the bark. Sap would leak out through such a split and be wasted. This spigot can be homemade out of wood or a piece of metal pipe or purchased quite inexpensively from a sugaring-equipment source. Manufactured spouts are made with built-in hooks to hold a bucket firmly on. Your first taps should be on the south and east sides of the tree. Then tap west and north. (North-side taps are last to begin flowing, but they'll also be last to stop.)

If you are tapping from a tree that has been tapped within the previous 10 years, place any new tap holes at least 3 inches to the side of and 6 inches above or below the old holes. That's because a tap hole causes death of the inner bark in an oval pattern around it, the oval being a couple inches to each side of the hole and a few inches above and below it. It takes 10 years for the tree to heal that place completely.

How to Collect. So the sap goes up the tree trunk and out the spout and drips down into your bucket. What can you use for the bucket? A coffee can, plastic milk jug, or a specially designed bucket. (If buying used buckets, beware of beat-up or rusty ones—they probably leak.) A larger container will need to be emptied less often. A commercial bucket will hold 4 or 5 gal. of sap. The bucket needs to be protected from sugar-loving animals, and from rain, snow, and wind-blown debris like dirt, leaves, and bugs. The easiest protection is a lid, which is an attachment you can buy for a commercial bucket, or you can devise your own.

Then every day you should come by each tree with your gathering pail into which you'll empty the spout buckets. Take the full gathering pail to your chosen site for boiling down. You may need to collect more than once a day on the best days.

A modern collection system for trees that are reasonably close together and uphill from the boiling place is plastic pipeline that picks up the sap at the spout and carries it directly down to a holding tank. It's inexpensive and easy to collect with but inconvenient to clean after the season's end. It's also difficult to notice a tree sending in bad sap, and the set-up is attractive to wild critters who'll like to take a bite and help themselves to the sap.

Freezing can shut down a plastic pipeline that has a slack and low place in it. It doesn't hurt the sap at all to freeze, either in the bucket or elsewhere, before you get around to boiling it. An interesting thing about partly frozen sap is that as the sap freezes, the sugar tends to stay in the liquid part. A bucket of sap half frozen would have a sugar concentration in the liquid part of twice the usual, the equivalent of half your boiling time accomplished already.

But the frozen lump does have some sugar in it, although a proportionately lesser amount.

When to Stop Tapping

1. Before the leaves go into bud (see step 4).

2. If you get tired of boiling sap before that (just pull the spouts out of the trees and you're done).

3. If the sap stops flowing.

4. If some sap is a pale to bright yellow color (a sign that the tree is ready to bud and no good for syrup-making).

5. If the finished syrup is dark brown rather than amber, with a strong, unpleasant flavor (it's edible, healthy, but not the kind of syrup you can give for a present).

The Boiling Down: At your boiling center all the individual buckets are emptied into a holding tank—maybe a big plastic garbage can. This should be outside in a cold place (north side of a building). Or pour directly into your big kettle, like a canning kettle, or one of the large, flat-bottomed pans specially designed for this process. Galvanized pans are not recommended. You can boil the sap down in any pot and on any source of heat. But if you use your kitchen stove and if you are boiling very much of it, it makes the house damp and steamy. Large producers boil in a "sugarhouse," which is a separate building—as simple as four corner posts with a roof or as fancy as a wooden building with windows that open and/or a steam vent in the roof. It's helpful to make it large enough to keep a dry wood supply right in there, too. Holes in a sugarhouse wall help to let the steam out. Either way it's nice to have a level floor. Another choice could be a fireplace or outdoor stove in your yard, possibly made of cement blocks. It helps if your boiling place is near the maple trees but at a lower elevation.

The sap you've collected looks and tastes like sugared water. In fact you can drink it straight, or use it to sweeten other drinks or in cooking.

Beginning the Boiling. Boiling down the sap is a long process, and it takes a lot of sap to make syrup. It takes a 6-gal. kettle of sap 4-5 hours of boiling to turn from sap into syrup—about a quart of it. Thirty to 35 gal. sap would boil down to 1 gal. of syrup. Jean Nance wrote me from Neoga, IL: "We make maple syrup in small batches, from 10 maple trees. If you have 8 qt., you are going to get about 8 oz. of syrup. Until the volume is down to perhaps 16 oz., you are essentially boiling water and don't have to watch it at all. The last bit of boiling down does have to be watched carefully. The main problem is steaming up the house— everything drips!"

A rule of thumb is that while boiling down from the start to Vio the original volume, you don't need to watch it. From Vio to the final stage (V35) though, you do have to pay attention. At this stage later sap begins to develop a layer of thick white foam on the top. (Beginning-of-the-season sap is less likely to foam and boil up.) Skim off that foam with a strainer and discard it; wear a leather or rubber glove while skimming. Boiling up (and possibly over) is a problem related to the physics of surface tension; just add a drop of cream and it will go back down. (Without the drop of cream, you won't be able to boil it as hot and fast for fear of the boiling up.)

Once begun, the boiling-down process should proceed promptly. Sap that stays in the pan too long darkens in color and gets a heavy flavor. But it is fine to add more sap to a batch that is already in the process of boiling down.

Testing the Syrup. You can test your boiling sap for density with the regular sugaring tests or with a hydrometer, sugaring thermometer, or candy thermometer. Boil until your candy thermometer shows 219°F at sea level. For every 550 feet above sea level where you are, add 1 degree Fahrenheit to that temperature. An easy old-time test: Unfinished sap will drop back into the pot off an ordinary spatula that has been dipped into the boiling sap, but finished syrup will cling to the bottom of it.

If you intend to sell your syrup you need the equipment to get it to exactly the correct density and labeled with its grade, available from a sugaring supplier. For commercial markets maple syrup is graded by established standards for color and density. The lighter amber the better grade. Dark-colored syrups have a caramel flavor rather than a maple flavor.

Maple Sugar. You will make maple sugar if you don't watch the' boiling sap carefully in its last stages. If allowed to get even slightly too dense, the syrup will gradually, over the succeeding months, precipitate out rock-sugar crystals, which will collect on the bottom of your jar. These crystals are hard and tasteless. It's safer to stop a little short of the ideal density than to let your syrup go a little past it.

On the other hand, if you deliberately want to make a maple candy, then pour some of it onto clean snow. When it's close enough to done it will cool on the snow into a glasslike rock sugar. To make the whole amount into rock sugar candy, heat your syrup to 32°F more than the boiling point of water at your altitude. Then cool slowly back down to 155°F, stirring constantly. Then pour it into molds.

Straining the Syrup. If you skip this step, you'll have debris in the bottom of your syrup that you'll have to discard after the clear syrup above it has been poured off and used. So, after the syrup is completely boiled down, strain it through flannel or a paper coffee filter to remove that debris. Or use a commercial felt strainer. Maple Recipes

<l> CANNING MAPLE SYRUP If you filtered it you have to put the syrup back on the heat and bring it back to a boil. Then pour it boiling hot into clean jars or any other sterilized container that you can get a really tight lid on. Pints are a good size for this precious stuff. Fill to very near the top of the container. Then lay the sealed container on its side so the top gets sterilized too. Some people use a paraffin dip. If your syrup isn't carefully canned, it will get moldy. Refrigerate after opening.

ci> MAPLE SNOW CANDY Marlissa Carrion wrote me from New York about her childhood in Ohio: "When Mom and my aunt would be heating maple syrup, we used to run out in the yard in the winter with a big roaster pan and scoop up fresh-fallen snow in it. Then we'd trail ribbons of maple syrup into the cold snow. It would harden to a kind of candy."

CANNED MAPLE-WALNUT ICE CREAM TOPPING Mix together in a saucepan I c. maple syrup, I 'A c. corn syrup, A c. water, and A c. sugar. Boil, stirring once in a while. After it has commenced boiling, add 2 c. walnut pieces, stir in well, reduce heat to a simmer, and let cook 15 minutes or until thick enough to suit you. Then ladle hot syrup into hot jars. Leave A-inch head space. Put on lids. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.

MAPLE CREAM SAUCE Combine I c. maple syrup and A? c. cream. Boil to soft ball. Beat I minute. Add I t vanilla.

W> MAPLE-HONEY SYRUP Combine A c. maple syrup, I c. honey, and c. butter.

Other Sugar-Sap Trees: Sugar maples are the best known, but not the only sweet-sap trees. Palm Sap. Palms are the tropical-zone sugar-sap tree. In the blooming stage they send energy to the flowering and soon-to-fruit high part of the plant in the form of a rich, very sweet sap. To tap it, you must climb the trees all the way up to the flower stalk, which is located high in the palm's crown. Cut it open and establish a drainage arrangement. The flow of sap can be continued for weeks by cutting open the flower stem each time it heals shut. Pounding on the tree can help, too. A palm tree being tapped for sweet sap will not produce nuts as long as it's being tapped for sap. Butternuts and Birch. Butternut trees can be tapped in the spring just like maple trees and their sap boiled down to make a sweet syrup. Birch trees (even in Alaska!) can be tapped for syrup. Black (sweet) birches give lots of sap. Tap in April, same as for maple. Birch sap is less concentrated than maple sap, but if you boil it patiently enough you get your syrup. Use same directions as for the maples.

Continue reading here: Enter the Wonderful World of Nuts

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