Friday, March 5, 2010

Sugaring Time



Nothing gets my heart racing like walking into the woods, tapping a maple, hanging a bucket, and watching the sap start to flow on a warm spring day in early March.

In past years we've done a bunch of sugaring, but passed on it last year due to... I don't quite recall. There was the sense we were too busy, so we skipped it. Well, were busy this year too, but I don't want to let another year go by without doing some sugaring.

This afternoon I loaded up my pack basket with a cordless drill, a 7/16" bit, a pile of taps, a stack of buckets, a hammer, and some lids. As soon I saw the first drops of sap start flowing from my first tap, my sense of excitement just soared. Sugaring is sort of like gardening; you work with nature to create a food, gathering the raw material that gets transformed into the divine sweetener known as maple syrup. Its magic, its exciting, and a really fun process to take part in.
Sugaring also connects me to a long regional history. Sugaring was done by native Americans and has continued over the centuries. There is something so cozy and special about the warmth of a sugar house with the pan steaming like crazy and the warmth of the arch warding off the outside cold.

When I was a kid, maybe 13 or so, I decided I wanted to try making maple syrup. I tapped a couple of trees and gathered a few gallons of sap. I then set up a couple of cinder blocks on which to place a large pot over the little fire I got going. I remember laying next to my set up, soaking in the smell of the fire and the spring earth, anticipating that this big pot of sap was actually going to turn into syrup. It was a special experience. As it turned out, the fire was not nearly strong enough to make much boiling happen, and eventually we brought the pot inside and boiled it off on the electric stove. I think maybe I made a quart, but that experience instilled a love for this process that still alights in me today.

In past years we've tapped upwards of 40 taps and made close to 8 gallons of syrup. We tapped a bunch of trees on my aunt and uncle's land in Fayston in addition to trees nearby where we live, but this year we're just tapping close by; it saves a bunch of complication and driving across the Valley in the middle of mud season.

One of the things Nancy and I let people know we wanted for wedding gifts was sugaring buckets, and one family in particular, the Conly's --who are backyard sugaring devotee's themselves-- came through with a pile of supplies. At this point we are well equipped.

Over the next few days I'll set up our sugaring arch and storage barrel so we'll be ready to boil when we've got enough sap. I'm grateful that I get to take part in this springtime ritual.

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