Maple syrup. MMMMmmmmm…..
Beautiful natural sweet nirvana.
We tackled the giant this year and tried our hand at maple syruping. We have helped out a friend and neighbor before, but never have we ventured this deeply. We began weeks ago, actually over a month ago with preparation. There is wood to cut and split, barrels and buckets to gather, wash and prepare. There is piping and engineering going on behind the scenes when you begin to set up your operation. There is learning. Lots and lots of learning. And most importantly there is love. Love passing between generations of wisdom gathered, of soul sharing insight, and encouragement, sharing knowledge, and sharing love. We will be forever grateful to our wonderful friend and mentor, Ted. Ted shared equipment, wisdom and knowledge, and mostly the can-do spirit of all homesteaders. Ted is a homesteader by nature and experience. He is from the first generation of those who were seeking more. More freedom, more to living, just plain more. Their generation pioneered the way for the modern-day homesteader. Anchored on the knowledge from those who came before, they continue to share that wisdom and knowledge to those of us who are learning now. I love listening to the stories, hearing the love and the laughter that rings through.
So I thought I would share our Maple Syrup story here.
We began gathering buckets and taps the week of March 17, on loan from our friend. We trekked out to his sugar shack beyond maple hill to retrieve said buckets and taps. We pulled a sled through knee-deep snow with a shovel in tow. I carefully picked my way through following a mentor with a new titanium hip. We reached the shack soaked in camaraderie and sweat and began to shovel so we could access the door. As the door reluctantly opened, we peered into the darkness, glimpsing through rays of light softening years of dust, covering hard work and sweat equity. Rows and rows of stacked buckets happily awaiting revival. The monstrosity of an evaporator rusting silently in the middle of it all. You can still feel the overwhelming pride and care that was taken in this homestead maple syruping operation. Stories of helpers, family and friends warm the heart. We retrieved our buckets, strapped them back to the sled, coaxed the door shut, and trekked back with sun warming our backs and our hearts.
Wood cutting and splitting commenced thereafter. We choose balsam blow down to fuel our stove as it is abundant in our woods and produces a hot fire. My Men cut and hauled using a sled to cover very deep snow to bring the fuel for the fire out of the woods.
We decided to use our cookstove as our evaporator this year. Not knowing how much syrup we would/could get. It was the most feasible option since it is already set up and in the yard. That meant a 6×12 inch fire box. Let me repeat that 6×12. That meant splitting the wood down to kindling. Virtual toothpicks compared to our large outdoor boiler. The boys were champions. My hardworking Hubby rocked the splitting maul for days on end. We stacked, and laughed, and sweat together.
Snow melted. The weather began to give way, and we watched for signs. We monitored the weather. When we felt we were getting close, we set a “tester tap.” Little did we know, we probably chose the wrong tree to watch as a measure of when the sap would run. This tree was handy as it was on the edge of the yard, so the kids could run out several times a day to check it, but unfortunately shaded by a big balsam tree. So we watched, and we waited, and when we became impatient, and felt it HAD to be time, we went out into the woods to set more taps, even though the one in the yard was not yet running.
Thank goodness we did! It was running in some places, actually most of the taps we put in were running that afternoon. Start your engines, folks! Syruping season is here! Somewhere in the distance I could hear a bugle sounding…I swear…..
Maple syrup season is highly dependent upon the weather. We had a nice first run, and then it rained. And then it snowed. And the sap stopped running. So we patiently waited, emptied buckets from rain and counted days. It didn’t take too long. In that time I had plenty of time to cook and finish our first batch of syrup. We got 3 cups. But it was beautiful. Amber delicious and produced fantasies of buttermilk pancakes on the horizon. That’s what keeps you going when you are carrying buckets. Visualizations of homemade stacks of wonderful pancakes, all covered in sweet, sweet, love, dripping down sides and pooling on plates. A recipe passed down from generations. Grandpa Snobl’s pancakes. He was famous for them. Albeit, from the healthy dose of love he served up alongside.
And then it happened. All things converged into perfect maple syruping harmony. The buckets sang loud and proud. We carried and gathered, tromping through snow, ice and mud. We cooked. We cooked. We cooked some more. I should perhaps mention to those of you who have not syruped before that the sap to sugar ratio is 40-1. That means it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. That means that you cook for hours in wind, and weather fueling fire with match sticks hour upon hour, day after day, and sometimes when the run is strong, most of the night. Our little stove puffed smoke steadily as winds roared, and sun shone, between rain and snow showers, and beneath stars. We watched and boiled the magic that is maple syrup.
We did school around the fire. We cooked meals on the stove and ate at the picnic table with mittened hands. We timed cooks around sports and friends, and gathering more sap. We talked, we engineered, we learned what we would do different next year, what we could do better. We worked together. We loved each other through each gathered bucket and each jar of syrup that we together brought to fruition. We loved each other through frustrations and learning curves. We received love and support from our teacher who encouraged us on, walked our woods, walked our maple trail. From bucket to bucket we eagerly trekked to see what the day’s take would be. It was exciting. It was exhilarating when a jar of boiling hot syrup would be brought forth from drip to pancake.
As the season comes to close, and the washing of buckets, barrels, and taps commence, I am joyful. Joyful for the experience, joyful for the learning, the time spent, and most of all, joyful for the love.
Shared with the neighbors on The Prairie Homestead