THIS spring I have made maple-sugar of a much finer colour and grain than any I have yet seen; and have been assured by many old settlers it was the best, or nearly the best, they had ever met with: which commendation induces me to give the plan I pursued in manufacturing it. The sap having been boiled down in the sugar-bush from about sixteen pailsful to two, I first passed it through a thin flannel bag, after the manner of a jelly-bag, to strain it from the first impurities, which are great. I then passed the liquor through another thicker flannel into the iron pot, in which I purposed boiling down the sugar, and while yet cold, or at best but lukewarm, beat up the white of one egg to a froth, and spread it gently over the surface of the liquor, watching the pot carefully after the fire began to heat it, that I might not suffer the scum to boil into the sugar. A few minutes before it comes to a boil, the scum must be carefully removed with a skimmer, or ladle, -- the former is best. I consider that on the care taken to remove every particle of scum depends, in a great measure, the brightness and clearness of the sugar. The best rule I can give as to the sugaring-off, as it is termed, is to let the liquid continue at a fast boil: only be careful to keep it from coming over by keeping a little of the liquid in your stirring-ladle, and when it boils up to the top, or you see it rising too fast, throw in a little from time to time to keep it down; or if you boil on a cooking-stove, throwing open one or all the doors will prevent boiling over. Those that sugar-off outside the house have a wooden crane fixed against a stump, the fire being lighted against the stump, and the kettle suspended on the crane: by this simple contrivance, (for any bush-boy can fix a crane of the kind,) the sugar need never rise over if common attention be paid to the boiling; but it does require constant watching: one idle glance may waste much of the precious fluid. I had only a small cooking-stove to boil my sugar on, the pots of which were thought too small, and not well shaped, so that at first my fears were that I must relinquish the trial; but I persevered, and experience convinces me a stove is an excellent furnace for the purpose; as you can regulate the heat as you like.
One of the most anxious periods in the boiling I found to be when the liquor began first to assume a yellowish frothy appearance, and cast up so great a volume of steam from its surface as to obscure the contents of the pot; as it may then rise over almost unperceived by the most vigilant eye. As the liquor thickens into molasses, it becomes a fine yellow, and seems nothing but thick froth. When it is getting pretty well boiled down, the drops begin to fall clear and ropy from the ladle; and if you see little bright grainy-looking bubbles in it, drop some on a cold plate, and continue to stir or rub it till it is quite cold: if it is ready to granulate, you will find it gritty, and turn whitish or pale straw colour; and stiff. The sugar may then safely be poured off into a tin dish, pail, basin, or any other utensil. I tried two different methods after taking the sugar from the fire, but could find little difference in the look of the sugar, except that in one the quantity was broken up more completely; in the other the sugar remained in large lumps, but equally pure and sparkling. In the first I kept stirring the sugar till it began to cool and form a whitish thick substance, and the grains were well crystallised; in the other process, -- which I think preferable, as being the least troublesome, -- I waited till the mass was hardened into sugar, and then, piercing the crust in many places, I turned the mass into a cullender, and placed the cullender over a vessel to receive the molasses that drained from the sugar. In the course of the day or two, I frequently stirred the sugar, which thus became perfectly free from moisture, and had acquired a fine sparkling grain, tasting exactly like sugar-candy, free from any taste of the maple-sap, and fit for any purpose.
I observed that in general maple-sugar, as it is commonly made, is hard and compact, showing little grain, and weighing very heavy in proportion to its bulk. Exactly the reverse is the case with that I made, it being extremely light for its bulk, all the heavy molasses having been separated, instead of dried into the sugar. Had the present season been at all a favourable one, which it was not, we should have made a good quantity of excellent sugar.
By boiling down five gallons of sap to one, and when just a little above the heat of new milk, putting in a cupful of barm (hop-rising will do if it be good), and letting the vessel remain in your kitchen chimney-corner during the summer, and perhaps longer, you will obtain a fine, cheap, pleasant, and strong vinegar, fit for any purpose. This plan I have pursued successfully two years. Care must be taken that the cask or keg be well seasoned and tight before the vinegar is put in; as the dryness of the summer heat is apt to shrink the vessel, and make it leak. If putty well wrought, tar, or even yellow soap, be rubbed over the seams, and round the inner rim of the head of the cask, it will preserve it from opening. The equal temperature of the kitchen is preferred by experienced housewives to letting the vinegar stand abroad; they aver the coldness of the nights in this country is prejudicial to the process, being as speedily perfected as if it underwent no such check. By those well skilled in the manufacture of home-made wines and beer, excellent maple-wine and beer might be produced at a very trifling expense; i.e. that of the labour and skill exercised in the making it.
Every settler grows, as an ornament in his garden, or should grow, hops, which form one of the principal components of maple-beer when added to the sap.
This excellent, and, I might add, indispensable, article in every settler's house, is a valuable substitute for ale or beer-yeast, and is made in the following simple manner: -- Take two double handfuls of hops, boil in a gallon of soft water, if you can get it, till the hops sink to the bottom of the vessel; make ready a batter formed by stirring a dessert-platefull of flour and cold water till smooth and pretty thick together; strain the hop-liquor while scalding hot into the vessel where your batter is mixed ready; let one person pour the hop-liquor while the other keeps stirring the batter. When cooled down to a gentle warmth, so that you can bear the finger well in it, add a cup or basinful of the former barm, or a bit of leaven, to set it to work; let the barm stand till it has worked well, then bottle and cork it. Set it by in a cellar or cool place if in summer, and in winter it is also the best place to keep it from freezing. Some persons add two or three mealy potatoes boiled and finely bruised, and it is a great improvement during the cool months of the year. Potatoes in bread may be introduced very advantageously; and to first settlers, who have all their flour to buy, I think it must be a saving.
The following method I found made more palatable and lighter bread than flour, mixed in the usual way: -- Supposing I wanted to make up about a stone and half of flour, I boiled (having first pared them carefully) -- say three dozen good-sized potatoes in about three quarts or a gallon of water, till the liquor had the appearance of a thin gruel, and the potatoes had become almost entirely incorporated with the water. With this potatoe-gruel the flour was mixed up, no water being required, unless by chance I had not enough of the mixture to moisten my flour sufficiently. The same process of kneading, fermenting with barm, &c., is pursued with the dough, as with other bread. In baking, it turns of a bright light brown, and is lighter than bread made after the common process, and therefore I consider the knowledge of it serviceable to the emigrant's family.
This is a barm much used by the Yanky settlers; but though the bread is decidedly whiter, and prettier to look at, than that raised in any other way, the peculiar flavour it imparts to the bread renders it highly disagreeable to some persons. Another disadvantage is, the difficulty of fermenting this barm in the winter season, as it requires a temperature which is very difficult to preserve in a Canadian winter day. Moreover, after the barm has once reached its height, unless immediately made use of, it sinks, and rises again no more: careful people, of course, who know this peculiarity, are on the watch, being aware of the ill consequences of heavy bread, or having no bread but bannocks in the house.
As near as I can recollect, the salt-rising is made as follows: -- For a small baking of two or three loaves, or one large bake-kettle-loaf, (about the size of a London peck loaf,) take about a pint of moderately warm water, (a pleasant heat to the hand,) and stir into the jug or pot containing it as much flour as will make a good batter, not too thick; add to this half a tea-spoon of salt, not more, and set the vessel in a pan of moderately warm water, within a little distance of the fire, or in the sun: the water that surrounds the pot in which your rising is, must never be allowed to cool much be low the original heat, more warm water being added (in the pan, not to the barm) till the whole is in an active state of fermentation, which will be from six to eight hours, when the dough must be mixed with it, and as much warm water or milk as you require. Knead the mass till it is tough, and does not stick to the board. Make up your loaf or loaves, and keep them warmly covered near the fire till they rise: they must be baked directly this second rising takes place. Those that bake what I term a shanty loaf, in an iron bake-pot, or kettle, placed on the hot embers, set the dough to rise over a very few embers, or near the hot hearth, keeping the pot or pan turned as the loaf rises; when equally risen all over they put hot ashes beneath and upon the lid, taking care not to let the heat be too fierce at first. As this is the most common method of baking, and the first that a settler sees practised, it is as well they should be made familiar with it beforehand. At first I was inclined to grumble and rebel against the expediency of bake-pans or bake-kettles; but as cooking-stoves, iron ovens, and even brick and clay-built ovens, will not start up at your bidding in the bush, these substitutes are valuable, and perform a number of uses. I have eaten excellent light bread, baked on the emigrant's hearth in one of these kettles. I have eaten boiled potatoes, baked meats, excellent stews, and good soups, all cooked at different times in this universally useful utensil: so let it not be despised. It is one of those things peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of settlers in the bush before they have collected those comforts about their homesteads, within and without, that are the reward and the slow gleaning-up of many years of toil.
There are several other sorts of rising similar to the salt-rising. "Milk-rising" which is mixed with milk, warm from the cow, and about a third warm water; and "bran-rising," which is made with bran instead of flour, and is preferred by many persons to either of the former kinds.
Of the making of soft soap I can give little or no correct information, never having been given any certain rule myself; and my own experience is too limited. I was, however, given a hint from a professional gentleman, which I mean to act upon forthwith. Instead of boiling the soap, which is some trouble, he assured me the best plan was to run off the ley from a barrel of ashes: into this ley I might put four or five pounds of any sort of grease, such as pot skimmings, rinds of bacon, or scraps from frying down suet; in short any refuse of the kind would do. The barrel with its contents may then be placed in a secure situation in the garden or yard, exposed to the sun and air. In course of time the ley and grease become incorporated: if the grease predominates it will be seen floating on the surface; in such case add more ley; if the mixture does not thicken, add more grease. Now, this is the simplest, easiest, and clearest account I have yet received on the subject of soap-making, which hitherto has seemed a mystery, even though a good quantity was made last spring by one of my servants, and it turned out well: but she could not tell why it succeeded, for want of being able to explain the principle she worked from.
Every one makes their own candles (i.e. if they have any materials to make them from). The great difficulty of making candies -- and, as far as I see the only one, is procuring the tallow, which a bush-settler, until he begins to kill his own beef, sheep, and hogs, is rarely able to do, unless he buys; and a settler buys nothing that he can help. A cow, however, that is unprofitable, old, or unlikely to survive the severity of the coming winter, is often suffered to go dry during the summer, and get her own living, till she is fit to kill in the fall. Such an animal is often slaughtered very advantageously, especially if the settler have little fodder for his cattle. The beef is often excellent, and good store of candles and soap may be made from the inside fat. These candles, if made three parts beef and one part hogs lard, wil burn better than any store-candles, and cost less than half price. The tallow is merely melted in a pot or pan convenient for the purpose, and having run the cotton wicks into the moulds (tin or pewter moulds for six candles cost three shillings at the stores, and last many, many years), a stick or skewer is passed through the loops of your wicks, at the upper part of the stand, which serve the purpose of drawing the candles. The melted fat, not too hot, but in a fluid state, is then poured into the moulds till they are full; as the fat gets cold it shrinks, and leaves a hollow at the top of the mould: this requires filling up when quite cold. If the candles do not draw readily, plunge the mould for an instant into hot water and the candles will come out easily. Many persons prefer making dip-candles for kitchen use; but for my own part I think the trouble quite as great, and give the preference, in point of neatness of look, to the moulds. It may be, my maid and I did not succeed so well in making the dips as the moulds.
The great want of spring vegetables renders pickles a valuable addition to the table at the season when potatoes have become unfit and distasteful. If you have been fortunate in your maple-vinegar, a store of pickled cucumbers, beans, cabbage, &c. may be made during the latter part of the summer; but if the vinegar should not be fit at that time, there are two expedients: one is to make a good brine of boiled salt and water, into which throw your cucumbers, &c. (the cabbage, by the by, may be preserved in the root-house or cellar quite good, or buried in pits, well covered, till you want to make your pickle). Those vegetables, kept in brine, must be covered close, and when you wish to pickle them, remove the top layer, which are not so good; and having boiled the vinegar with spices let it stand till it is cold. The cucumbers should previously have been well washed, and soaked in two or three fresh waters, and drained; then put in a jar, and the cold vinegar poured over them. The advantage of this is obvious; you can pickle at any season. Another plan, and I have heard it much commended, is putting the cucumbers into a mixture of whiskey* and water, which in time turns to a fine vinegar, and preserves the colour and crispness of the vegetable; while the vinegar is apt to make them soft, especially if poured on boiling hot, as is the usual practice.