My old barrel stove was getting dangerous. I bought it on Craigslist for $25 or $50 almost a decade ago now. It was rusty when I bought it, and all that heat and snow over the years has made it really crumble. To give you an idea of how dangerous it was – at the end of it’s life I had to prop it up with a log (one leg rusted off completely). The log started to catch fire due to small holes in the barrel. Time for something new! 🔥
Then I got a barrel off of craigslist. I think it had been used for cooking oil in its previous life because it smelled like a hamburger joint 🍔
Per the instructions, the vent below the door is supposed to go where the small barrel vent is. I used a metallic sharpie to mark the drill holes and openings. I used a die grinder air tool to cut the openings and a new titanium 1/4″ drill bit for the holes.
I added anti-seize grease to all the nuts and screws in the kit, but I’m not sure if it’s going to help given the temperatures and moisture it will experience. But we’ll see – worse case scenario, if I want to transfer the kit parts to a new barrel, I can use the 1/4″ bit and drill out the screws.
To fasten the legs I put the barrel on its side and blocked it with a couple pieces of wood. I put the seam down b/c that’s where I’m going to do the cutting for the steam trays and chimney. I figure I should remove material at the seam since that’s probably the weakest part of the barrel anyway.
With the barrel chocked into place, I put the legs on and used a level to make sure it would sit flat once I fastened them.
Here you can see my anti-seize paste and an initial cut line I drew to cut out an area for the steam trays.
My old barrel didn’t have the flue installed, so I’m hoping this will be a game changer 🤞The goal is to hold as much heat in the barrel so energy is directed to the boil. Also I added a length of pipe to use as a chimney.
I cut a large section out for the steam trays and used a level to make sure they’d sit as flat as possible when it’s out in the yard.
I used my Ingersoll Rand die grinder air tool to make all of the cuts for the door, chimney, and steam trays. It’s slow going so take your time and be patient. I made several cuts over several days. The cut-off wheel I used was new when I started this job (over 4 1/2″ in diameter) and was probably around 2″ when done.
Here’s the new rig in action – the best part is the chimney which keeps the wood smoke overhead. You’ll still smell like a wood fire, just not as bad 😎
The Creawesome mod is a zip file with a folder in it called “resources.” I just needed to figure out where to put it. I tried putting it in ~/.config/cura/4.0 on my Ubuntu system but that didn’t do anything. The clue that it is working, according to this video, is that I should see a Creawesome mod splash screen.
But I wasn’t having any luck.
Deconstructing the AppImage
Since the AppImage is a bundle, I thought that maybe they need to go inside of it. The AppImages delivered from Ultimaker are “version 1” app images. Those types of AppImages can be mounted like a filesystem for further inspection. I used these commands:
This should create an updated AppImage with the Creawesome mod called Cura-x86_64.AppImage. I renamed mine to Ultimaker_Cura-Creawesome-4.0-x86_64.AppImage and put it right next to my original Ultimaker_Cura-4.0.0.AppImage file in case I need to fall back to the “vanilla” version.
First of all this is really just a bunch of poppycock. You don’t need any of this stuff to enjoy real maple syrup at home. In 2015 I had done a cook very shortly after some very heavy sap collecting days. This yielded the lightest syrup I had ever made, so Jessi encouraged me to enter it in the Minnesota State Fair competition.
It was fun and I’d like to improve on my process a little, but doing these things by no means should preclude you from enjoying real maple syrup.
I was deducted in the clarity category for sugar sand. For the record, I do not mind sugar sand, and neither do some other producers. It’s really a matter of aesthetic. But so I can compete solely on flavor, I need to filter the sugar sand out of my competition batch(es).
40-0100-F – Hobby Filter Pack (1 Final Filter 18” x 18”, 4 Pre-Filters 18” x 18”) – $8
62-0008 – Syrup Oval with Handle, 8 fl. oz. 28mm red leaf cap – 12 for $8.75
Again, I’ll stress that if you’re not going to compete, none of this stuff is necessary.
It was all about $75 after shipping. Sugar Bush Supply is rather old-school when it comes to ordering. You can view their catalog on their website, but you have to call, fax, mail, or email in your order.
The other two categories, color and flavor, account for 15 and 50 points, respectively. Color is somewhat of an educated guess. The tools to accurately grade color are far more expensive than the tools above. I give it a good guess on color: light, medium, or dark amber and call it good.
Flavor is where the real competition is, but I believe you need to have a full score in the other categories if you want to vie for a ribbon.
I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to compete in the state fair this year, as the weather has been very strange:
You’ve collected enough sap, and now it’s time to boil down to syrup. The first weekend of April was it for 2014, the freeze thaw cycle is over until next year. So let’s talk about turning that sap into syrup.
First, plan on dedicating an entire day to cooking. Every year I’ve made syrup, it has taken me 12 hours from start to finish. When I make my boiling rig more efficient, I happen to get more sap and for some magic reason it always takes all day. Also, you want to boil outside. 5 Gallons of sap yields one pint of syrup. Would you be willing to dump 5 gallons of water in your kitchen?
When I started syruping I just tapped two trees and decided to do my boil on my propane grill. This is fine for a first-timer if you just want to experience the process before diving in. I put two stainless steel steam table pans on my grill:
BTW, the thermometers on the trays in the above photo are totally unnecessary. I put them on for a photo-op. Accurate temperature measurement is only needed when you do the finishing. Once things were boiling I added some sap every now and then to keep the level consistent. You will go through an entire 20 lb. tank of propane this way. Either have a spare on hand or be prepared to shut everything down while you go to get a refill.
Even my first foray yielded a fair amount of tasty real maple syrup:
Wood is Good
Boiling 10 (or less) gallons of sap with a 20 lb. canister of propane is OK. You’ll get your 1-2 pints of syrup for the cost of a propane cylinder or two. So you’re at about $15 per pint – about what real maple syrup sells for in the grocery store. If you want to go bigger, you’ll want to go cheaper and that means wood.
Wood for fire – preferably hardwood: birch, ash, oak – for a long steady burn
To build your fire you can get as creative as you’d like. My uncle props up his steam trays with cinder blocks and just builds a fire directly underneath. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to be manageable.
I found an old barrel stove for cheap on craigslist. I cut two sections out of the top of the barrel where I could insert the stainless steel trays. In the stove, I added some fire bricks to the bottom of the barrel. I bought two cheap fireplace grates that sit against the edge of the barrel and hold the wood more in the middle of the barrel. I’ve found boiling goes faster when there’s good oxygen feeding the fire from below, and when the flames lick the bottom of the pans. Find some free wood on craigslist, preferably hardwood, but it really doesn’t matter as long as you have enough and it’s cheap or free. Here’s what it looks like in action:
This what’s going on in this photo: I put a bottling bucket from my homebrew supplies on top of a ladder. There’s a spigot on the bucket that connects to come clear tubing. For my rig, I added a T to split the flow in two. The clear tubing then slips over some 1/4″ (outside diameter) copper tubing. Each length of copper tubing has a valve that I installed inline so I can meter the flow of sap. I usually strap the copper tubes to the ladder with twist ties or something to hold them in place. Each copper tube feeds one stainless steel tray. I fill the bottling bucket periodically using the smaller 2 gallon bucket. Once I’ve got the fire going well and the sap flow is keeping up nicely, I only have to check on things every 15-30 minutes.
Other “Where’s Waldo” items in the photo: a baby monitor (to keep the family unit in-tact) and a miniature pincer with a cone.
Whether you’re using propane or wood, once you’ve boiled your sap down to a point where it will all fit in one normal-sized kitchen cooking vessel, it’s time to go inside. This is when an accurate candy thermometer is necessary. The syrup is done when it reaches 7°F above boiling. At sea level that would be 219°F. Here in Minnesota, I let mine go to 221°F for a little extra insurance. You also want to stir the syrup when you think it’s almost done – there may be a hot spot in the pot. You want to make sure all of the syrup has reached the desired temperature.
Put your finished syrup into jars while it’s hot. Strain the syrup through a filter to remove any particulates. I got a cone filter from Sugar Bush Supply which is specifically for syrup, but you could use a few layers of cheese cloth. The hot syrup will seal the lids shut and you can then store them at room temperature for a year (or longer). Real maple syrup must be refrigerated after opening.
During a year with “normal” Minnesota weather, you would want to start gathering sap for syrup around Valentines day. But this year was extra cold, and we didn’t start having good daytime thaws until March.
You could still start now, you haven’t been missing out on too much sap production (from my standpoint). Here’s what you need:
It probably goes without saying, but you need to live in an area with a 4-season climate to collect sap for syrup. When it is below 32°F outside, the sap is stored in the roots of the tree. When it thaws, the sap moves up the tree trunk and into the branches. Several consecutive days where it is below 32°F at night and above 32°F during the day will create a pumping action from the roots to the branches for the best sap yield.
If you don’t know which trees are maples and which ones aren’t, you might wait to start this adventure next season. It is easy to identify maples when they are in full leaf, but unless you know the bark well, I wouldn’t suggest tapping any trees of unknown species.
Trees – you don’t need to live out in the country to make maple syrup. Even if you only have one or two productive trees, they can yield enough sap for a beginner to get started. My first year I only tapped two trees and I did it late. I got 5 gallons of sap out of each tree, which each boiled down to a pint. Those two pints of syrup lasted my family until August (5 months).
The trees you tap should be at least 10″ in diameter. By measuring the circumference, you can determine the diameter.
The circumference divided by Pi will give the diameter, which means for 10″ in diameter the tree’s circumference should be at least 31.4″. I call it good with 30″ around for one tap and 60″ around for two on the same tree.
Taps – You can purchase these at farm supply stores such as Fleet Farm.
Tubing – You can get this at a hardware store or even a pet shop with aquarium tubing. Bring your taps to size it up.
Buckets – I specifically got 2 gallon plastic collection buckets at Home Depot. They’re for making custom paint mixes. They’re just the right size to hang on the taps. You’ll want bigger buckets to move the sap to at the end of the day. I keep a couple 5 gallon buckets in a garage fridge. My uncle that lives in the country taps about a dozen trees and found some 55-gallon plastic barrels on craigslist to store his sap.
Use a drill and a 7/16″ bit to drill into the trunk of the tree 2-4 feet above ground. Drill in 2 1/2 to 3 inches – slightly upwards so the sap can easily run down. Remember, your tree should be at least 30″ around (10″ in diameter). If your tree is closer to 60″ around, you can put two taps on the same tree.
Hammer the tap into the hole and add a length of tubing.
In the lid of each of my collection buckets, I drilled a hole where the collection tube could go. When I hang the buckets, I only snap down one side of the lid (opposite the hole). This is because the lids are f#*king hard to fully snap down. It also creates a situation where if rainwater were to pool on the lid, it wouldn’t go into the bucket.
To really prevent rainwater from getting into the collection buckets, I punch a hole in a plastic bag and put one over each tap.
Then you can hang the bucket and put the bag over it and have a somewhat weather-proof setup. Watch out for nosy squirrels or windy days, they may knock your bucket and bags down.
I’ll cover the boil-down later, but will warn that there is a time limit on freshness in regards to color and flavor. The document I referenced gives about 5 days of storage leeway: 2-3 days in the collection bucket, plus an additional 2 days in refrigerator temperatures before boiling. The longer you store it before the boil, the darker the syrup will be.
My experience has been that you can keep fresh sap in the fridge for about 2 weeks without ill effects besides a darker syrup. I kept some sap in the fridge last year for 3-4 weeks, and it boiled down to a strangely sour syrup – inedible! Better to do several small boils during the syrup season than try to do a big one at the end.