Posts Tagged With: healthy snacks

From Tree To Table: How Maple Syrup Is Made!

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Scrumptious gift from the beautiful maple tree:  home-canned maple syrup!

I would like to share with you the wonderful information we just learned, as a family, about how maple syrup is made at home.  Kids love to learn new things about trees, and as is the case of my kiddo, food too!  If you live in the northeastern part of the US, or in the Canadian regions where maple trees flow with wonderful sap, you are very lucky to have this gift so close to home.  We are fortunate to be visiting upstate New york and just saw friends who shared with us the process of tapping trees and cooking down the sap into syrup. After the how-to portion of this post, I will share some terrific news on the health benefits of real maple syrup, a maple syrup & walnut popcorn recipe, and a link to free, fun printables about maple syrup for kids.

The trees! Due to their sugar content, the following trees are most commonly tapped for sap collection:  Sugar Maple, Black Maple, Red Maple, and Silver Maple.  Sugar Maples have the highest sugar content and therefore are ideal for tapping.

Basically, a hole is drilled in the tree and a tap or spout, called a spile, is used to transfer the sap from the tree into a bucket.  A bucket, or plastic jug, is hung from the tree to collect the sap.  The sap runs out clear, like water, and is collected and cooked down outside for hours to get the water out and thicken and darken it.  The sap is then taken indoors to finish up and is then canned in a hot water bath into sterile jars.  That’s it!

Maple sap generally begins to flow between mid-February and mid-March.  Sap flows when the daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing.  Generally the sap flows for 4-6 weeks, with the best sap coming early in the season.

Trees must be at least 12 inches in diameter, and larger trees can have up to 3 taps per tree.  The height of the tap hole doesn’t matter, it is a matter of convenience.  A hole is drilled about 2 inches deep, at a slight upward angle.  The spile is inserted and tapped into the tree with a hammer.  The bucket, or jug, is hung by hook or spile. The tree is tapped!

Depending on the season, you can expect 5-15 gallons of sap per tap. The sap can be stored for up to a week or so before cooking, so syrup doesn’t have to be processed daily.  The collected sap is strained to remove debris and is ready for cooking.

10 gallons of sap can be boiled into 1 quart of syrup (ratio of 40:1).  The sap is boiled outdoors because it produces too much steam to do inside. In small batches, the sap boils until it takes on a golden color, and then is transferred to a smaller pot and taken indoors to finish.  Continue to boil the sap until it takes on a consistency of syrup and then a candy thermometer is used to bring it to 7 degrees Fahrenheit above the boiling point of water.

The syrup is then filtered and canned in a boiling water bath for storage, or placed in the refrigerator to be used within 3 months.

I just can’t get enough of this!  I love maple trees, the sap and the syrup!  I am ever hopeful to return next winter and help tap and cook maple syrup. It is truly good family fun, and a delightful addition to the pantry.

Maple syrup, the healthy sweetener:

Maple syrup contains polyphenols, antioxidants that help with inflammation, according to research from The University of Rhode Island.  During the study, one polyphenol, quebecol (named for Quebec, one of the top syrup-making regions) was discovered, and it is unique to maple syrup. University of Rhode Island researcher, Navindra Seeram, discovered 54 new beneficial compounds in pure maple syrup (2011), and confirmed that 20 compounds discovered in preliminary research play a key role in human health.  Several of these compounds possess anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which have been shown to fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses.  The darker grades of maple syrup have the highest level of antioxidants. Maple syrup is sugar, and therefore shouldn’t be consumed in huge amounts to try to get the antioxidant benefits! It is simply a much healthier choice for sweetening foods instead of other sugars or anything with corn syrup.  I am happy to say that Captain loves real maple syrup!  We put it on her porridge, pancakes and yogurt, and cook and bake with it as well.

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This is Stan, who resides in Columbia County in New York.  He graciously took us on a tour of his land and shared his knowledge of maple sap-to-syrup.  Afterward, he and his lovely wife, Linda, served us sweet little old-fashioned dishes of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with their very own maple syrup.  It was scrumptious, and honestly, the best maple syrup I have ever tasted!  Thanks for reading.  Cheers to Stan and Linda, and maple syrup dreams to all!

Karen

Recipe ~Maple Syrup & Walnut Popcorn:  Oil a large bowl and a wooden spoon.  Pop 8 cups, or so, of popcorn.  Heat 1 cup maple syrup to 236 degrees, using a candy thermometer.  Stir together popcorn, 3/4 cup walnut pieces, and syrup.  Break into pieces when cool.  Enjoy!

Click here for a link to fun, free maple syrup coloring pages for kids

Click here for the link to read more about The University of Rhode Island’s study of maple syrup.

You can find the comprehensive booklet Tap My Trees  Maple Sugaring at Home by Joe McHale on Amazon by clicking here.

Categories: Foodarella, Homeschooling Projects, Science Rocks For Kids! | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Siljans Rye: Healthy, Tasty, And It Just Plain ROCKS!

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Siljans Rye is a healthy alternative to breads, only has 3 ingredients and 50 calories for a big hunk, and has fantastic cracker-texture and mild rye flavor.  They are fat free, sugar free and cholesterol free as well.  You must try them!!!  Captain is 5 years old and loves them… 

Thanks to Aunt Cate for turning our family on to what has become a necessary staple of our diets.  You won’t come to the cabin and not see a package of Siljans resting on top of the old fashioned Sweetheart stove, ready for munchin’.  These delightful cracker rounds are made of whole grain rye flour, yeast, water and salt and are healthy, delicious and very versatile.  Captain eats them daily and likes them plain, or with a variety of toppings, and we rarely leave the house without having some stashed in the car for hunger-emergencies.

When one thinks of knackebrod, rye or hardtack, it kind of rings a bell of being a “poor man’s food”, or we could remember tales of civil war soldiers who subsisted on such simple foods during hard times.  However, these tasty cracker rounds have a lot of good benefits for people today, especially those who like to see only a few ingredients listed on their labels, and also like things to be affordable and tasty as well.

We are lucky that a little supermarket in the town we shop in here in California sells Siljans, our favorite brand of these kind of good eats, and so we are able to purchase them for around $5 per 14 oz package. Amazon is a good source for those that want them regularly at about the same price. You can even get a subscription to have them delivered regularly if you can’t find them in your local area… wow!  Siljans do not go stale unless you leave them around for a really looooong time, or in a damp place.  We tested this by tasting some that we had forgotten about on top of the fridge and, after about 6 months, they were still just great.

Before I list some of our favorite ways of enjoying Siljans rye, I want to add an important note to people with dogs, *we give chunks of these simple crackers to both our young and elderly dogs in place of other unhealthy doggie biscuits and treats.  They love them and I believe they are good for them as well.  If you price out a lot of the dog treats on the market today (especially ones that aren’t loaded with horrible stuff!) you will find that they are a great deal for our canine friends too!  So you see, when I say that the entire family gets to enjoy them, I mean our pets as well 🙂

Here are a few of our favorite ways to eat Siljans:

With cheddar cheese, apples, peanut butter & honey (like a sandwich), feta cheese and olives, hummus, pesto and tomatoes, gouda, cream cheese, pickles…..  there are so many ways!!

Cracker Facts!  Back in the day, Knackebrod was popular in armies and schools because of its light weight and simple, transport-friendly shape. Crisp bread has been baked in central Sweden since 500 AD and it was made as round wafers with a hole in the middle so the bread could be stored on sticks under the roof.  Traditional crisp bread was invented about 500 years ago.  Finland and Sweden have long traditions in crisp bread consumption and Sweden’s first industrial crisp bread bakery, AU Bergmans enka, began production in Stockholm in 1850.

Today, bubbles are introduced into many doughs mechanically, although traditionally, this was done by mixing snow or powdered ice into the dough, which then evaporated during baking.  How cool is that??? Another method is to knead the dough under pressure in an extruder. The sudden drop in pressure then causes water to evaporate, creating bubbles in the dough.

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The packaging can’t help but be adorable.  I feel kind of cute myself when I have this in my shopping cart.

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Check out the ingredients list…  do I need to say more?

Captain and I attempted to make our own rye crisps and had a lot of fun trying.  The crisps didn’t turn out as great as the Siljans, but they were still good and the dogs LOVED them as treats.  We even put a broomstick between two chairs and hung them to dry out a bit after baking.

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We hope to try again as even our version was yummy and healthy, but we are so addicted to the texture of Siljans that we may spend the time and work on something different when we bake crackers again.

I really think these are terrific for kids, adults (and dogs too!) and highly recommend you try them if you don’t already enjoy them.  Please do let me know any ideas for accompaniments with these rye treats if you care to share, and thanks to Wikipedia for the facts about crisp breads!

Good thoughts, Karen

Categories: Foodarella | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oooh Yeah: Organic Peanut Butter and Honey Balls

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A messy countertop is a happy kitchen!

There are dozens of recipes floating around out there for the old-fashioned kids’ treat that is peanut butter & honey balls, but we found this is a good, solid way to make them with organic ingredients. We are lucky enough to have local mountain honey from our wonderful neighbor Maria and are very grateful for it!  K remembers his mom making these for him when he was a kid and they are the easiest thing for little kids to make all by themselves.  It’s a yummy way to learn about measurements too!

Method

Mix 1/2 cup organic peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey in a bowl.  Mush with a fork until combined.  Sprinkle about 1/2 cup organic dry powdered milk in and begin mixing with clean hands.  Oooh yes, it is fun to do the mushin’!  You can also add a couple of drops of vanilla if you prefer. Knead the mixture a bit and add a little more powdered milk if necessary to make the dough firm but not crumbly.  Roll into balls and put on plate. We like to refrigerate them and find that they taste best that way.  You can stuff a couple of carob or chocolate chips into each one as a little “surprise” if you’d like.

I am always on the hunt for healthy treats and snacks for kids so don’t hesitate to shoot some ideas this way if you care to share!

Good thoughts, Karen

Categories: Foodarella, Homeschooling Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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