Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's Maple Time

     It’s the first week of March and the morning air tastes sweet. There’s white steam curling out of sugar shacks all across the county and in McDowell the rising column from Sugar Tree Country Store is pink in the early morning light. It’s been perfect sugar weather. Nights below freezing and days above. These are the temperatures that really put the trees to work sucking up the starches they’ve stored in their roots over the winter and sending them skyward as sugars to jump start spring growth.
     My son Justin has been in the syrup business since he was about sixteen. That’s the year he and a friend collected enough sugar water to set up their own ramshackle sugar shack and boil until they had produced about 13 gallons of syrup which they then sold to visitors at our annual Maple Festival. It took about 500 gallons of water and 48 hours of work drilling, hanging, collecting, boiling and bottling to produce that small amount of syrup, but the boys were proud of their operation and were even featured in an article in the Washington Post about the county’s youngest syrup producers.
     For the last two years, Justin has opted to just gather his water and sell it to other producers who will boil it, condensing it until it is light amber, sticky and sweet. This year, he hung 80 buckets in the sugarbush down on our farm in McDowell. Joe had to set up an electric fence to keep the cows away from it because they love sugar water and will walk from tree to tree nosing buckets and dumping as they drink. Justin gathers his water by hand , tipping the buckets into a 425 gallon transport tank which rests on the back of an old farm truck. It takes him about an hour each time he collects and lately the buckets have been brimful twice a day. The season is only a few weeks long, and farmers who work their sugarbush are boiling without a break so they can finish off as much syrup as possible before the trees bud out and the rising water gets sappy and off-flavored.
     The smell of sweet steam is usually one of the earliest signs of spring here in Highland. So raise a jug of maple syrup and make a toast to warmer and sunnier days to come.

It’s maple time
It’s sugar time
It’s tapping trees for syrup time
It’s dripping, dropping
Sweet drops plopping
Buckets hanging
Tin lids banging
White steam roiling
Water boiling
Pancakes sizzling
Syrup drizzling

It’s maple time
It’s sugar time
It’s tapping trees for syrup time.


1 comment:

  1. The level of work involved explains the high price of good syrup. Thanks for sharing this!


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