This time of year, keep an eye out for sap icicles hanging off maple trees. A good sign, if you’re into making maple syrup.
That was us for nearly 40 years on our Vermont tree farm.
Our sugaring adventures began modestly. Two women friends and I tromped through deep snow to set our first buckets. Picture this: We hauled 6 large, plastic wastebaskets to tie on the trees with string, figuring the sap would run a whole week before we could boil. Didn’t want to lose any of that precious sap! Our hole driller had a hard time. “I can see why they call this ‘rock maple,’ ” she says. Turns out she was drilling backwards!
With our six “buckets” set, Jim and I came up the following week, to find only about a quart of sap in each wastebasket. Oh, well—boil anyway over an open fire. Long story short, that first bit of syrup tasted fine and hooked us on sugaring.
How do you make maple syrup? First, locate some sizeable sugar maples, then bore holes, tap in spiles (spouts), hang buckets or rig up tubing. Collect the sap, build a hot fire under the evaporator, and watch the steam rise. When the syrup gets thick enough, you pull it off, strain it through felt and bottle it. One gallon of maple syrup requires 40 gallons of sap. A good sap run comes with night temps in the lower 20s, followed by 40-degree days. Maple syrup is pricy, but consider all the work. Is it worth it? Bring on the pancakes—or ice cream—and give us your answer!
What of all this ancient history stands out in our minds?
- Those early days, boiling sap over an open fire and going home, red-eyed from smoke.
- Snowshoeing through powdery whiteness from place to place, tree to tree.
- Chickadees singing their spring song.
- Sucking syrup from the straining towels.
- The odd dead mouse in a bucket. (Don’t even ask.)
- Boiling alone all night, with candles and the soft purring of fire and foaming sap my only company—a deeply spiritual ambiance.
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