My father in law, Greg, and mother in law, Marlene, moved onto this property five years ago. After 30 plus years serving our country in the Navy, Papa, as we call him these days, was ready to be settled in a quiet, country location. Raphine was just the place.
Upon one of our many visits to their home, Daniel asked Papa if he had any maple trees on his property and wouldn't that be amazing if we could tap those trees and have our own syrup?
Papa didn't know. But that one question sparked a new hobby and just one year later, Papa had 17 taps in his maple trees: the beginning of his maple syrup production. With taps in the trees, small tubes were connected to direct the flow of maple water (or sap) from the tree into a cleaned and emptied milk jug at the bottom. Each day, each of those 17 jugs were poured into a huge pan sitting over an open fire. And the boiling began. The first year was a joy and only served to grow his love of all things maple. With 200 gallons boiled, Papa received 5 gallons of syrup.
This year we drilled 100 taps into our trees.
And into each hole drilled, a small green tap was placed. From the tap, gravity fed tubing was connected. And now, instead of having to travel from tree to tree to collect the sap, it simply travels down the tubing into a collector tank at the bottom of our hill.
From the holding tanks, the sap is then pumped into the wood-fired evaporator. As the sap is poured in and begins to heat, the density of the sap slowly changes as the water is evaporated. And through this evaporator, the sap travels through several different flues until it almost reaches the density of syrup. The syrup needs to continually be checked with the hydrometer, an instrument that allows us to read the density of the sap.
Even with all our new tools this year, making syrup is quite labor intensive! Did you know that it takes about 50 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup??
Our first boil was last week and to be quite honest, the sugar shack has become our second home; we even eat dinner out there together when boiling continues into the night. We carry our food out on trays, the children are climbing ladders, swinging, and playing pirate ships in the wood pile. With bowls of hot stew in hand, camping chairs horse-shoed around the evaporator and the sweet steam of syrup enveloping us, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite parts of the syrup season. We have the sunset to guide us into the sugar shack, and that type of star that can only be seen from a country farm, leading us back home.
When the sap has reached the proper density within the evaporator, we pour it off into a large caldron that will be carried inside to be finished off on the stove. Once inside, with the children all in bed and the dishes clean, we complete the final step: creating maple syrup. Inside the caldron, we bring the sap to a boil and wait with caution. Boiling too much would cause the whole batch to burn and boiling not enough would mean the syrup would be too runny- and not in theory syrup. Every few minutes we pour off a touch and use the hydrometer to measure it just perfectly. Once the syrup lands between the two red lines- we have syrup and it is off the heat, poured through a filter and into a large coffee pot where it can be kept at a constant 180 degrees. Keeping it at that temperature sterilizes the jars and caps as we fill them one by one. They are then laid out to cool overnight - and - voila! Syrup!
I think my favorite part, through this whole process, is saving just a touch out of the bottom of the coffee pot, after all the bottling has been done, and we have plopped down, exhausted, into the bar stools surrounding the island in the kitchen. Each with a teaspoon's touch of this delicacy, we try and describe the flavor: light, caramel, toasted marshmallow, mahogany...
I just heard Marlene tell Tirzah that when her father was in school, it was a privilege for the young men who completed their studies well, to go out and collect the sap from the sugar maple trees. A privilege. An honor. That is how we see this season as well. An absolute honor.