Benjamin Stiles, owner of Ragland Farm, Southbury, CT is a retired technology and engineering teacher. His wife Sharon and daughter Sarah help run the farm. Sarah is a junior in the Ag-Ed program at Nonnewaug High school in Woodbury. Ragland Farm is also participating in our Maple Syrup Crop Card Campaign!
Q: What’s one thing you want everyone to know about Ragland Farm?
A: We raise christmas trees and make maple syrup!
Q: What’s something that is most commonly misunderstood about turning sap into syrup?
A: Many people don't realize how much sap it takes to make it. The ratio is 40 to 1 at best, but can run higher as in 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of finished product-syrup.
Q: How many trees are you tapping and how much syrup does that produce?
A: About 300. We hope to make 125 gallons, but that is up to the weather. The optimal temperatures for sap to run is 40 degrees during the day, 20 at night.
Q: How long have you had a sugar house?
A: We built the present one in 1966, but the family has been making syrup here since the 1670s.
Q: You mention that the family has been making syrup since 1670. Could you talk a bit about how much the process has changed since then? How different is the equipment for collecting and boiling from then?
A: Cauldrons over an open fire were replaced by tin pans over a fire box and today stainless pans over a forced draft arch.
Buckets on the trees have been replaced by plastic lines in most sugar bushes, but we still use buckets as we are in the bottom of a valley and don't have the elevation required for plastic lines.
Vacuum pumps on the plastic tubing is used to increase sap flow.
Reverse osmosis is used by many producers to concentrate the sap before boiling.
Having said all that, the process remains the same: reduce 40 gallons of sap to 1 using a boiling process to caramelize the sugar and produce the syrup. Most of the changes have been made to speed up the process.
Q: How do you make different grades of syrup?
A: Boiling the sap as soon as possible will help produce a lighter grade. Later in the season the sugar content in the sap drops producing a darker grade. Otherwise we have little control over the grade.
Q: What’s your favorite way to eat maple syrup? Which grade?
A: Try putting dark syrup on a grapefruit half and you probable won't want one any other way.
Q: What's the shelf life of maple syrup once you've bottled it?
A: A year in a sealed container, refrigerate after opening.
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