Candied Bacon

My community garden has lovely bi-monthly potlucks. Everyone else brings delicate vegan quinoa salads. And I bring candied bacon. At least I give fair warning.


Despite being out of place, it’s always a hit. It’s not actually my recipe – my mom found it in a newspaper years ago and mailed it to me as a joke. It turned out to be amazing and very easy, making it ideal for a party. Here’s what you need:

1 lb bacon

4 tbsp packed brown sugar

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp cinnamon

Dash of black pepper

Dash of cayenne pepper


That’s it! And the last two are optional. Preheat your oven to 400F and mix up all your dry ingredients in a bowl. I tend to do very generous spoonfuls.


Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. This is a messy dish, and you’ll be glad for the foil when it’s time to clean. Cut your bacon strips into thirds and lay ’em out flat. It’s fine if they overlap.


Mix your dry ingredients together into a tasty powder.


Shake it out over your bacon so it’s evenly coated, and pop it in the oven.


Take it out 15 minutes later. By this time your house will have filled with a smell. The smell will make you wonder why you ever eat anything else. This is normal.


Transfer the bacon to a few layered paper towels. Take it to your engagement or function, or eat it all yourself if your heart’s had it too easy lately.


Bee Syrup

The bees are coming tomorrow!

The dandelions and most of the trees are in full bloom here already, but it’s good to give the bees some low hanging fruit to eat, at least until they get settled in and draw out all their comb.

What I’m affectionately calling bee syrup is just white sugar and water, mixed together at a 1:1 ratio. To facilitate mixing, I’m boiling the water first.


And pouring it into a big old jar. This jar used to hold 4 lbs. of olives and is just the right size to hold 10 cups of water…


Mixed with 10 cups of sugar.


The solution that I got has a wonderful viscosity to it – check out those ripples that form in the wake of the spoon!


My bee syrup is made, and now I’m just waiting for it to cool. Tomorrow I’ll use a hammer and a small nail to poke a few holes in the lid. This way, we can turn the jar upside down and rest it on top of the frames in the hive. A vacuum seal formed by turning the jar over should keep the syrup from all leaking out of the holes at once – instead the bees will be able to draw it out through the holes when they need it. We’ll surround it with an empty deep hive body and put the lid on top to prevent robbing from other bees. Basically our hive tomorrow will have two boxes – one for bees and one for food.


I’m not putting any holes in the lid until I get this thing transported to the garden, though. Covered in syrup is no way to start a hive installation.

Maple Syrup on the Baessler Estate

Last weekend a pilgrimage was made.

Defying all odds that we wouldn’t get our act together, Ben, Will, Phil, and I drove six hours to Pennsylvania to make maple syrup with my dad.


When I was young, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The first, and arguably the coolest when you’re a little kid, is Little House in the Big Woods. It’s a non-stop festival of rough-hewn timber, smoked hung meats, and maple syrup. One spring my dad and I decided to recreate the maple syrup chapter in our own not so big woods, and a tradition was born.

Of course I got older and too cool for projects. Then I got even older and moved away. My dad has kept on boiling sap, though, tapping the trees every three years or so to replenish supplies.


This winter the syrup stash was running dry, and my dad hinted that he’d love some help. There were rumblings of interest among my friends, and by golly four of piled into the car and drove well into the night to help (read: watch) my dad make syrup.


On Saturday morning we woke up bright and early, but my dad was up much brighter and earlier getting the fire started. He stacks two rows of cinder blocks and builds a fire between them. The fire goes strategically next to the patch of bamboo that’s been trying to take over the garden for the past twenty-five years. It’s part scorched-earth policy and part threat – he throws some dug up bamboo roots on the fire where the rest of the patch can see it.


The pans are legitimate maple syrup boiling pans, bought off of someone or other when I was a kid. Who knows how old they are. The wider, flatter one on the left is for boiling down new sap. Every now and again the sap on the left is transferred to the deeper pan on the right, where it continues to boil and refine.


My mom thinks it’s just the right size for a funeral pyre and worries what the passing cars must think.


With the weather so unseasonably warm, my dad was getting overrun with sap. Late winter and early spring is the time to tap trees, when night temperatures are low but day temperatures are relatively high. This see-sawing is what really gets the sap flowing. Days up in the 50s and 60s really get the sap flowing, apparently, and he was quickly running out of space to store it all. To make way for more sap, he did a boil the weekend before, producing about a gallon of syrup. To build up our strength for the day ahead, we made blueberry pancakes and bacon to enjoy with some of last weekend’s bounty.


All fueled up, we got to work. The Baessler Estate is about two acres, which is small as Estates go. It’s rich in sugar maples, though, and more than big enough to sustain my parents’ pancake habits. As this was an educational trip, my dad showed us how to tell a sugar maple apart from a regular maple. It’s all in the tips – the buds of a sugar maple end in sharp points, like these. Regular maple sap can be made into syrup, too – it just won’t be as sweet.

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Our lesson learned, we took off into the woods to collect the remaining buckets. This tree has two obvious holes from past harvests. It’s been tapped this year using the hottest new plastic technology.


Most of the buckets are these old fashioned aluminum ones that hang directly from the spout and have cute little hats to keep the snow out. These too were bought when I was a kid and we wanted an authentic Little House operation.


We trooped around collecting buckets. By a stroke of luck, all the sap was frozen solid.

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This made all the buckets nice and stackable.

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On top of being frozen, the little buckets weren’t particularly full. They’d all been emptied the week before for the first boiling. Each of these is, then, about a week’s sap production for a single tree.


We set the buckets by the fire to loosen the ice, then dumped them into the flat wide pan.

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The real money, however, was in the big trash barrels. A couple of the larger trees were plugged directly into these. They also served as the storage tanks for when the smaller buckets filled up. We had a couple hundred gallons of sap in these barrels, and it was all frozen.

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The hope was that if we hacked at it long enough with the ax, we’d hit a liquid center of much purer sap. By leaving it out to freeze, we were essentially distilling – separating the frozen water from the liquid sugar.

After some serious hacking, we did hit liquid. A taste test proved that it was indeed a heck of a lot sweeter than the ice. We scooped the liquid into the pan and threw the frozen to the elements. Did we lose some sugar to the ice? Probably. But we were burning daylight and this felt like a lucky break.

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With all the sap in the pans, it became a boiling game. So really a waiting and fire-tending game. All in all it’s a process of about ten hours.


At my mom’s suggestion, we split up the day with a field trip to my cousin’s commercial maple syrup operation down the road. It was a day packed with educational experiences. Too packed for one blog post. Join us next time for a look inside a real working Pennsylvania maple syrup sugar shack.


And the time after that for the stunning conclusion to Maple Syrup on the Baessler Estate.

Beer Beer Beer

Two weekends ago I set out to bottle my amber ale. The recipe called for ten days of fermentation in the primary fermenter. I’d given it thirteen. If anything, I was worried I was behind. So I scrounged up about fifty bottles and sanitized them, and I found someone big to lift the carboy up onto the counter.

And then I actually looked at the beer.


It was still bubbling. Quite a lot. The krausen had fallen, and there was a lot of trub on the bottom, but there was also a very, very steady upward movement of tiny bubbles. It was just like the mead that I’d decided would be impossible to bottle.

But I wanted so badly to bottle this beer. I’d scrubbed and sanitized the bottles. I’d schlepped the carboy out of the closet. I’d prepared mentally. But it really, really looked like it was still fermenting.

I read the forums – they said to wait. I called my friend Joe who actually knows what he’s doing – he said to wait. I polled my roommates – they didn’t know the specifics, but they were in favor of doing whatever wouldn’t result in exploding bottles. Namely, waiting.

And so, with a heavy heart, I waited. I dumped all the sanitizer and I wedged the carboy back in its corner of the closet, and I waited… until today!


I waited ten more days in all. If anything, I probably should have racked it to a secondary fermenter, but I never anticipated it taking so long. My best guess is that the cold weather is to blame. Since the house is so cold, and we never did get the PID controller space heater working, the yeast may have just been working at a cooler temperature and, therefore, more slowly. At any rate, the extra time seemed to have done it good. There were, if we’re being totally honest, still a few bubbles. But it was nothing like last time, so I declared it to be Good Enough.


The bottles had been biding their time around the sink – I sanitized them and finally reclaimed that counter space for mankind.


One by one I filled the bottles with sanitzer and gave them a good shake. I always use Star San, famed for its sanitizing foam. This was a good instance of that foam coming in handy – only a little bit of liquid (supposedly) sanitizes a whole bottle.


My tall auto siphon had given me so much trouble racking the mead, but I needed to use it again. Thankfully, I managed to find a length of tubing that fit and was not kinked all to hell. With a little cutting and finagling, I managed to fit it onto my auto siphon. It worked like a charm.

I’ve read about methods for racking beer without picking up the trub. These include swirling, starting the siphon in a separate container, and trusting in the raised bottom. I’m sure these all work, but I’ve discovered a certain poetry in just jamming a knife in the top.


With my trusty knife method, the beer flowed smoothly and quickly down into the priming bucket, the bottom of the siphon resting safely just above the trub. As it flowed, I dissolved 2/3 of a cup of sugar in 2 cups of water and poured it gently into the beer. This should get the yeast motivated just enough to carbonate the beer in the bottles.


Once all the beer was in the priming bucket, I gave it a few stirs to incorporate the sugar and hefted it up onto the counter. Onto the other end of my great new tube, I attached a bottling wand. This bottling wand either came from a Craigslist stranger or my dad – I inherited a lot of miscellaneous equipment from both. I’d never used it before because wouldn’t fit with my small auto siphon. I used it today for the first time and Good God Almighty is it convenient. It’s a ten inch stiff plastic tube with the simplest but best little gizmo on the end. If the gizmo is pressed against a hard surface, like the bottom of a bottle, it allows the beer to flow through it freely. If it’s not touching a hard surface, however, it forms a seal that stops the flow. This means the moment a bottle is full, you can lift the wand and stop the flow, only starting it again when it’s in the next bottle. It’s so smooth and simple and I’m never ever going back.


So how many bottles does 5 gallons of beer make? Here we have 50 regular bottles, plus 2 bombers, plus one more I managed to fill from the dregs after this picture was taken. That brings us to a grand total of 55. All that remains is to let them sit in the dark and carbonate.


But how does it taste? Really, genuinely good. I sucked the remains out of the tubing while I was cleaning, and I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s not too sour, and it’s not too boozy. It tastes like a real, very flat beer, which is precisely what it should taste like. Barring some crisis in the next few weeks (of which there could be many) I think I may have a huge amount of perfectly passable beer.


I just hope it doesn’t explode.