The idea for Anne food. was born in January, just three months ago. I wasn't sure where it would lead, and still don't know exactly. What I do know is that cooking and food writing have become the heart and soul of my passion, and following one's passion is what makes people tick. And sometimes you have to take a blind leap to get where you want to go, even if you don't quite know where that is.
The last few months have been amazing. I've been asked to cater some incredible events, I was approached by a lifestyle magazine to be their food writer, and I've received countless encouraging words and much enthusiasm from all of you which means the most. Another fun aspect has been people coming to me to write about their fantastic businesses, instead of the other way around!
I wrote a piece about Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in February that they retweeted, bringing Anne food. some visibility in their network of followers. The next day I got an email from the awesome Carla Turner, the (wo)man power behind Turner Farms Maple Syrup in South Egremont, Massachusetts, just a stone's throw away from Rubiner's in Great Barrington, Mass. It's all about the network and the community.
Carla's husband Paul grew up with his family on the land where Turner Farms sits today, tapping maple trees and making syrup as a kid. His childhood hobby turned into a profession in the mid 80's, and Paul and Carla have continued to successfully grow their maple syrup business over the years. From 300 taps to over 4,000, and with the help of two extra sets of hands along the way (their children!), it's still all in the family.
I visited Turner Farms twice in the last month, bringing the maple-adoring Man along on my first visit to meet Carla, Paul and their son Trevor. There's actually more going on at Turner Farms than just maple, and it really is a family affair! Paul and his brother Bill run a dairy farm during the day- the last remaining dairy in Egremont, Mass! Our visit was perfectly timed to see Paul and Trevor milking the cows that wandered in a single-file line into the barn, and out the other door, udders relieved. I could have fallen asleep to the sound of the milking machine, it was very pleasantly meditative. I didn't want to leave!
In addition to the daily dairy activities, come February the Turners start tapping their trees for maple season. They have a six week window to collect the maple sap before the tap holes dry up and it gets too warm outside. The ideal weather for a large sap yield consists of freezing temperatures at night followed by a thaw and warmer temperatures first thing in the morning, which is why March is prime maple season. This cycle causes the sap to flow due to a pressure change in the trees. And hopefully by evening time you have a lot of sap to boil!
Which is why I revisited the farm at night to see the boiling in action! The sap flows out the taps, through lines that run between the trees, and into large tanks at the bottom of the slope that Paul empties into a large truck. Once back at the farm, the syrup flows through hoses into the sugarhouse, making its way into the evaporator. As you can tell by the photograph of Paul below, it's BIG! While they started with a rig that burned wood, the Turners' current setup burns oil which is much safer because it can be manually turned off without having to wait for the wood to burn out.
Sap is heated in multiple large pans and turns to syrup at 218 degrees, at which point it flows out of the evaporator and into a large vat. Carla and Paul keep an eye on the thermometer and carefully regulate the syrup's temperature by controlling a hose bib-like knob on the side of the evaporator. By restricting the flow, the syrup remains in the evaporator for a longer period of time, raising its temperature. Periodically Paul measures the density of the syrup with a hydrometer, and makes adjustments as needed.
The final step before bottling or placing in barrels for storage is the filtering process. Paul and Carla stir diatomaceous earth into the vat of syrup, which flows through a hose and into a filter press. The diatomaceous earth forms a matrix in the press that acts as a natural filter, allowing the syrup to flow through while trapping any solids. And there you have it- the syrup is ready!
The Turners' maple syrup is amazing. Its flavor is one of the most complex yet delicate I've tasted. The Man is an amateur maple connoisseur of sorts, having grown up in Massachusetts tapping trees as a kid himself like many New Englanders. When we tasted the syrup Carla sent home with me, even he was blown away. I think it's the Turners' passion- that's what makes the syrup so good. For them it's about the product, absolutely. But it's also about the network and the community. That's why they tick, and boil the best syrup around.
I got to pet some cows and was practically lulled to sleep by the noise of the milking machine. I was amazed by the clouds of steam spewing from the roof of the sugarhouse as I drove up to see the boil, and the maple rain inside the sugarhouse as the trapped steam condensed on the roof. I was even more amazed by the overwhelming sweet aroma of maple inside as the boiling was taking place (something that probably should have occurred to me earlier...). And now I'm able to share their story with you.
But my favorite aspect was making friends with wonderful people in the context of a natural, family-made product with integrity. Seeing the hard work that goes into it, and the community that surrounds it. Because that's what life and food are all about. Passion, community, and coming together. I can't wait to see where Anne food. takes me next!