Six Things You Didn’t Know About Maple Syrup!

I guess the “when in Rome” expression would apply to maple syrup when in Northern Minnesota, right?

I think so!

I took that sentiment and ran with it this past weekend in Vergas, Minnesota where they were holding their annual maple syrup fest. I left with a saturated sweet-tooth to say the least, with over 30 syrupy sweet submissions for tasting. What I wasn’t expecting was to get my Nerd-Girl on, and leave with a super saturated noggin as well (yeah I said noggin and nerd-girl in a sentence… what of it hehe). Moving right along, I have to share with you what I found to be the most fascinating things I learned about maple syrup at the Vergas maple syrup fest, and through the live demonstrations at the Maplewood Sate Park.

 

1. It can take anywhere from 25 to 70 years for a maple tree to grow large enough to tap

Maple trees should be anywhere between 8-12 inches before they are tapped, and depending on the growing conditions, such as over-crowding and access to nutrients, it can take a very long time before trees are ready to give up the goodies. Next time you enjoy that sticky goodness, think about the fact that it came from a tree that just might be older than you!

 

2. Warm days and freezing nights are the recipe for syrup success

It isn’t simply cold weather that maples need to flourish, unbeknownst to me, they need cold nights combined with warm days. The best conditions for maple tapping are temperatures that get around 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and just below freezing at night. This narrow temperature window is what gets the sap “running”, basically the sap settles during the night and as the temperature rises, the sap moves through the warming tree. If the tree is tapped for sap collection, that the sap will more readily flow out of the tree… and eventually into our bellies.

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Lovely Graphic of the Maplewood State Forest 2016 Sap Collection

 

3. The original method for turning sap to syrup was boiling with heated rocks

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Original Method of Maple Sap Processing

One of the coolest things I got to see was the original method of processing maple sap into a finished product! When the Native Americans first discovered the deliciously sweet liquid that comes from the maple tree, they had to figure out not only how to process it into a consumable and transportable product, but they had to do so without the metal modern contraptions of the maple industry today. The water-like sap was collected into hand carved vessels most likely made from cottonwood trees. While the sap was collecting, stones were being heated on an open fire. Once the stones were burning hot they were moved into the vessels containing sap, and the stones heated the sap to a boil. As the stones cooled they were exchanged for freshly heated stones, and that cycle continued until it was thick as syrup. The original product didn’t stop there though, because native people had nothing to transport runny syrup in, they continued heating it until it solidified into sugar cakes. Those syrup cakes were the first finished maple products!

 

 

4. Native people used a maple product to flavor their meat

Those maple sugar cakes that native people created as a final transportable product from the sweet sap, were used as a flavoring element in cooking. When meats or other foods were boiled, a piece of the sugar cake would be broken off and added to the water.

 

5. Making candy from syrup can take hours

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Cooking Up Some Candy!

To my dismay, I discovered that making maple candy is a full day affair! When I arrived to the festival, this particular batch had been cooking for over an hour and it wasn’t even finished before I left the festival. It must be cooked very slow and consistently to prevent burning, until it reaches about 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

 

 

 

6. Syrup is DELICIOUS on freshly churned ice cream

Okay, okay… this one won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but if you haven’t had the pleasure of trying this decadent combination, DO IT. Like right now, do it!

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Hard at Work!

I had a blast at the maple syrup fest, and I hope you enjoyed all my fun facts! Now I want to hear from you. What is your favorite way to eat maple syrup? Comment below, and let me know.

 

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5 Money Saving Travel Tips for Your EuroTrip

So you are off on a European holiday too? Ahhhh, living the life huh… 20 something trust-fund baby, with someone else’s credit card, floppy hat blowing in the wind, sipping a cafe latte on the balcony of a hotel on the French Riviera. Yeaaaaah, unfortunately… NOT my life story.

Not you either? OK then read on for some tricks I have learned along the way, so that I can persevere my limited European budget for the things that really matter in life, like… fantastic cheeses. Here are my TOP 5 MONEY SAVING TIPS that won’t leave you breaking the bank for whatever you are most excited about doing/seeing in Europe, be it trying a plethora of cheeses or that cafe latte on the bank of the French Riviera!

  • Use Public Transportation OR Walk

This one is an oldie but goodie. I know it is common knowledge to use public transportation while traveling to save money, yet so many of us cave and take a taxi to/from the airport (this adds up people). I find it is usually due to lack of planning, and my trick is to always look up the route to/from my lodging and the train terminal or the airport before I arrive. I also make sure I have exact change for the bus or metro, this takes a little extra planning. Maybe navigating a poorly created government website in some Eastern European language sounds terrifying to you as well, don’t worry the info is out there, typically just a quick search away on The Google.

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Prague has the longest escalator ever!! FYI

  • Book “Alternative” Accommodation

These days staying somewhere other than a hotel no longer means sleeping in funky, possibly infested, too small for even the average human- beds of a youth hostel. Times are changing and hostels have become the trendy alternative to hotels. Many hostels in Europe have private rooms in addition to the traditional dorms, and sometimes they even have free breakfast (rare). Yeah, sure you won’t get tiny shampoo, but you will save a few bucks on that bill. I say a few bucks because with their rise in popularity, and increase in standards, the prices are now more comparable to that of a crappy hotel and the price gap between hostel and hotel is narrowing. That said, if hanging with often rambunctious 18-30 year old strangers is not your thing, Air B&B is always an option. Air B&B, a site to find accommodation in someone else’s home, is now world wide. The prices vary widely, as does what you get. You can find everything from a couch in someone’s living room for $10 a night, to an entire 3 bedroom home for a week. Typically it can save you money, especially if you are traveling with another person or two, but it does require quite a bit of research and booking well in advance. The last option, also the cheapest, is Couch Surfing. Yup, it is what it sounds like… staying on a strangers couch, or sometimes floor, or sometimes even their guest bed room. The thing about it is, IT IS FREE. Yes, I said FREE. Although, it is the “booking” process that requires the most time and effort in order to do it safely, and to find reliable couches… to surf on. I will do an entire post, or two, dedicated just to explain what the hell this is, but in the simplest of terms its an online interface for finding free lodging with a local, in exchange for a type of ‘cultural exchange’… just for the love of travel and exploration.

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Disclaimer- NOT in Europe. This is from my trip to the Amazon of Peru, but it is by far the most alternative I have experienced for “accommodation”. Spent almost a week on this epic cargo ship trip down the Amazon.

  • Take the Bus When Possible OR Fly on Budget Airlines

If you plan to visit more than one European country, which I assume most people do. Getting from country to country can get pricey, but fear not there are plenty of ways to get around this. I know people talk a lot about the Euro-Rail, but that wasn’t even in my budget, it can still get quite expensive. The bus is really the cheapest way to go, but 12 hour bus rides are really not for everyone, I understand. If you can tolerate it, or if your cities are relatively close, I recommend OUIBus and FlixBus, they have been the cheapest so far. If the distance between your cities is short and a popular travel route, there is a ride-share site called “Blah Blah Car”. This is a site you have to register for, so you will know who your driver is and the other passengers, and gives you an interface to communicate (have not tried it myself yet). If you do need to fly, there are numerous budget airlines in Europe, the most popular being RyanAir. Careful with these airlines, they are only cheap if you are traveling light, they have fees out the wazoo! Be sure to look up the fees, they sometimes charge checked bags by kilo, add different fees for booking with card or not paying for your bag in advance… read those fine lines!

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Bus rides are perfect for daydreams!

  • Go on FREE Walking Tours

These are everywhere in Europe! I am typically not a fan of huge guided tours, I do not think they are the most intimate way to get to know a new city. That said, I have found a few amazing companies that offer free tours of both typical tourist sites, and behind the scenes places with real local flare. It is as simple as google searching “free tours” in the city of your choosing, check their reviews and ask how many people they limit it to. These tours run off of tips, so if you have fun then let them know! I am on a budget (which is why I am on a free tour in the first place), so I usually give 2-5 euros and let them know I will write a glowing review on tripadvisor… That is of course only if I enjoyed it, which I have every time. “SANDEMANs” and “Free Tours By Foot” can be found in many cities, if you are in Berlin look up “Alternative Berlin”. I took their free tour, and also paid (12 euros) for their “Anit-PubCrawl”, which takes you to local watering holes rather than the usual touristy pubs.

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My adorable Tour Guide in Prague!

  • EAT STREET FOOD

This is my absolute favorite money saving tip!! There are so many yummy places to eat in Europe, I very easily find myself going overboard… more cheese please. This tip keeps me in check. I see eating in a sit-down restaurant like a treat (or in really cheap countries save it only for dinner), but rest of the time I try new dishes on the street. Be it munching on ‘pommes with oorlog sauce’ in Amsterdam, eating ‘curryworst’ or ‘schnitzel’ in Berlin, or the most amazing creation… ‘trdelník’ in Prague. I know you can’t survive off of fried dough treats… but you are only a loser if you don’t try, right? Of course if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen, which if you are following tip #2 you are, you can cook for yourself. I personally cook all the time when I am home, and I see traveling as a chance to eat as many new things as humanly possible… then when I go home I try making them myself.

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Curryworst in Berlin!

I hope this helps you save some money as you gallivant through Europe! I like to always keep in mind though, these experiences can sometimes be once in a lifetime, and so it is always about priorities. Budget first, so that you don’t have to say no to something that will leave you with a memory you will think on later in life that will fill you with joy. Those are always the best souvenirs to take home from a trip!