Three days! A Cord of Wood! A Mound of Kindling!
My husband started it; he wanted to see what it was like to drill the spiles into the trees. He wanted to witness the sap flowing into the cartons. He wanted to know if we could collect from our own trees some maple syrup like what we buy from the store or from the local Amish.
So he went out around the end of February, sloshing through the snow left over from our, almost record, snowfall winter. Then he pressed his weight onto the brace and bit of his old hand drill and prodded small holes into the sides of a couple of the maple trees that surround our home. He proceeded by plugging little spiles into the holes that he had drilled, and hanging some clean plastic milk cartons underneath them.
And then he went on to something else. I think it was the bees. We laugh about this. He does it often. Creates the produce then leaves it on the table, so to speak. Depending on the season it could be anything from a bushel of tomatoes, a bucket of apples or a quart of berries. But this time it was maple tree sap.
It doesnít bother me, this habit of his, of bringing the produce to the table. It is just the roles that we are playing. It is like he is the male coyote bringing the meat to the camp. And I am the female coyote who recognizes it for itís worth. I am thankful for his offerings.
He didnít really bring the maple tree sap to the table, but I could see as I went about my day that the jugs were filling up. It had been intriguing to watch the first few drops of sap glisten and quiver at the mouth of a spile before they slid shyly into the basin.
The weather stayed below freezing for a few days and the few drops of sap that had settled in the bottom of the jugs froze solid. Then for three or four days nothing happened. On the forth day the sun came out. Another page was turned on the calendar and it was now March. On the forth morning the nip in the air mellowed and the temperature climbed, hitting forty. The sap in the trees had started to flow and I had the evidence. I watched as the tiny droplets of sap on the spiles turned into determined drips. Wow! There was water coming out of our trees! .
I put a bit of this water on a spoon, it looked just like water. I tasted it. It tasted like water too, water lightly sugared. All day long the drips cascaded down into the jugs. Soon water sloshed against the their sides. I could see that my husbandís attention had indeed been called elsewhere. He was very excited about putting together his beehive frames, which had just, came in the mail. So I empted the syrup cartons which were now reaching their tops, into large pails and packed the collected sap down into the snow to keep it cold. I watched amazed as the jugs began to fill again the next day. Soon we had twenty gallons of maple tree sap packed down in the snow behind our house.
Hubby was now deep in the midst of his new project. Content in his world of hammer and fresh cut wood. But I didn't care. I had gotten the fever. The sugaring fever. It amazed me to see the precious sugar water flow from the trees. I thanked the trees for their sharing. I worried about any harm that this tapping and taking might do to them. So I got on the Internet and found as much information as I could about it. I found out that maple syrup collecting was started by the Native American Indians, (who boiled it on down, into sugar) and that part of Canada and the northern U.S. are the only places that one can collect maple syrup. This seems to be the only place in the world where one has the right maple trees and the right temperature contrast to produce the flowing sap in this awesome tree, the sugar maple. It must be below freezing at night, and then rise above 40 in the day. How fortunate this made me feel to know that I can collect sugar from the trees that grow around me.
I found it interesting to read that the honeybees that my husband was getting into were the sweetener known to the Europeanism and that no honeybees are native to the U.S. Beekeepers brought their bees here as our ancestors came to this new land, from across the seas. The Indians at first referred to the bee as the white mans fly.
The Indians would move their camp to a maple forest in late winter. The maple tree was a sacred being to them and they thanked the tree for itís offering. What a coincidence that my husband was experiencing the white mans way of producing sugar while he had propelled me into the red mans way. And I was getting quite lofty about which way of collecting sweetener was the best. I much preferred my solitude camping out with the maples then the company of a pack of bees! Hah! Don't you tell my husband that I said that!
From what I read, it seems that both honey and syrup became not as well sought after when cane sugar came out. Because cane sugar is much cheaper. What most people eat on their pancakes is not maple syrup at all but cane sugar flavored to resemble maple syrup. Most popular brands of pancake syrup have none or next to no maple syrup in their ingredients.
I learned that it does not adversely affect a tree to be tapped as long as the tree is big enough and is not given too many taps. And I also found out that by experiencing where the syrup came from it made the syrup oh so sweet.
It takes about 20 gallons of sap to boil down into 3 pints of syrup. That was what I had twenty gallons. I could not boil this down in the house, as the process of boiling off all of that steam would leave a sticky sap on everything and perhaps pull the wallpaper off of the walls. So I remembered my old parlor stove that I have in my back yard. I do some canning on it in the summers, to get out of the house. So I gathered up some kindling and some wood, and started a fire in her broad belly. I found the biggest pan that I could, placed it on the now crackling stove, and poured the milk jugs of sap into it.
And I boiled sap. And I boiled sap.
And I boiled sap.
It was cold out that day. The wind had picked up and was blowing in gusts. From my duties in the house, to the parlor stove out of doors, I would go. Rekindling the fire. Sometimes it would seem that I would go from loading the fire in the house to loading the one out of doors. It kept me busy, between also filling the kids with nourishment.
The wind nipped my nose and ears as I stirred the kettle and marveled at the water, all this water in this pan, came from out of our trees! Once I took out my coffee and I put some of the sugar water in my cup and it tasted cheerfully sweet. Amber like. A bit like brown sugar, maybe with a little honey. Soon I could detect a slight fragrance in the outside air. As the individual smell of cooking maple sugar water, warm and comforting.
After a time, my spells out of doors with the evaporating kettle grew into a meditation of sorts. Witnessing the slow steady rhythm of the steam escaping to the sky. Surrendering finally to the time that the process takes. Collecting wood, loading the stove, then shutting the door tight against the wind, and returning to the house again.
The sun slipped out from behind the clouds that morning, and then slipped back again. And it became a gray and windy afternoon. I berated myself for not dressing warmer as I loaded up the old parlor stove again. The sap had not even cooked down halfway yet, it was obvious that this was going to take more time then I had expected. I decided to take the spiles out of the trees and to stop collecting sap, as I was not sure that I could process it all and I did not want to waste the maple trees water supply.
Supper had been cooked and the dishes put away. Little one was putting away the chickens, when I stole out to the parlor stove for the last time that day. The sun had already set and the world was a smoky shadow with a cresset moon over head in the sky. Poofy cat darted in and out of my feet as I found my way across the bark path to the boiling down sap. This time the sap was different, the smell of it had more depth, there was not much of it now in the bottom of the kettle and what was there had turned into a rich dark brown. Quickly I retrieved the pint size Mason jar from its pan of boiling water where I had kept it sterilized. I poured the evaporated down sap into the jar, and held it up to the moonlight. It glowed.
I carried this pint secure within both hands, as I slowly returned to the house. There I held it up to be inspected by my family of admires and bidders for a taste. Teaspoonfuls of the still warm, glossy amber syrup were scooped out. Each face partook, and then lit up with a WOW! It was good! Too good to mellow down with pancakes or ice cream or anything that would take away from the pure joy of eating maple tree syrup, just plain.
The next day I was at it again. And again, it was cold and windy. I grew weary and achy and longed to fall asleep by the fire in the house. Perhaps that is why I cooked the syrup too long. But it was good for we learned that we loved the sugar that was made by cooking the syrup on down. The Indians always cooked theirs on down into sugar as it kept better then syrup.
On the third day it was, you guessed it, once again cold and windy. I once again felt achy and weary and longed to go to sleep by the fire. But this time the one outside would have done! Indeed I think I did doze off a few times there as I sat outside by the boiling sap.
So it took me three days, a cord of wood, a mound of kindling and a lesson in solitude to boil down twenty gallons of sap into three little pints of syrup and some pan licken good candy. Would I do it again? Yes! In a heartbeat! Although maybe I would like to look into those evaporators that you can buy that do the job more efficiently.
Actually I could really see this becoming a spring ritual for me. There is just something about going out in the earliest of spring and partaking with the rising of the sap. We could build one of those little sugarhouses, and I could camp out every spring collecting golden elixir from the lovely Maple tree. Wouldnít that be lovely?
Ah! Iím hooked!