Friday, March 1, 2013

Maple Syrup Season

No, here in Texas we are not making maple syrup, but in the Northeast where I grew up the season is beginning.  So I thought I would share a memory of making maple syrup with my family when I was a little girl.


     When I was a little girl one of the highlights of the winter was when the sun started to shine and it started to warm up a little bit during the day.  This meant that it was time to get out all the taps and buckets for the sugar maple trees.  We would get everything out and wash it all up so we would be ready to start.  Dad would take his hand drill and hammer and go out and drill the holes in the tree and hammer a tap into the tree.  Then we would hang a one gallon bucket over the tap and the tube attached to the tap would fit through a slit in the lid of the bucket and the sap could begin to be collected.  I remember waiting as Dad would drill the hole and the joy I would feel when the tap was hammered in if the sap started dripping out right away, because I would let the sweet sap drip into my mouth before the bucket was hung on it.  
     The buckets would begin to fill up with sap and we would go around everyday in the evening and sometimes twice a day on a weekend if the sap was flowing fast to collect the sap.  We would dump the sap from the bucket on the tree into a five gallon pails and bring them back to the garage.  I remember being too little to carry a full 5 gallon pail of sap, so I would only carry partially filled pails or I would fill the pails and my older brother or one of my parents would carry them back to the garage.  I remember the year that I was able to carry the full five gallon pails all by myself.  I probably had some wet pants on occasion from the sap sloshing over the top.  Of course the snow could be deep and hindering walking or it could be icy and hard to carry the buckets as well. 
     At the garage we would dump the 5 gallon pails of sap into our collecting containers which were large plastic trash cans and we would make sure to put the lid on tight so that dirt didn't get into the sap.  The trash cans were only used for holding maple sap and during the off season they would hold the supplies for the next year.  When we had collected several trash cans full of sap we would have enough to start boiling it down.  If the weather was cold enough to freeze the water in the sap buckets we would break the ice and dip out the sugar water from the middle of it.  The ice contained little to none of the sugar needed to make the syrup so we would take the ice outside and leave it in a pile by the door of the garage.
     To begin boiling the sap down to make maple syrup Dad and Mom would pour the sap into a very large pan that would sit on top of an old upside down cast iron bathtub which had been turned into to a stove of sorts.  The maple syrup stove was stored to the side of the garage and moved to the middle by the doors where a metal stove pipe was attached to let the smoke escape up by the roof.  When the pan on top of the stove was full of sap Dad would start a fire in the stove and then the fire would burn for a few days before the maple syrup was ready.  We had a metal tent that went on top of the pan which helped keep the heat in, therefore helping the sap to boil down a little faster.  As the sap boiled down more sap would be poured into the pan.  The fire had to be tended every couple of hours to keep the sap boiling, even during the night.  I never had to take a night shift to tend the fire, but I do remember tending it a couple of times during the day.  It was very hot and I had to be very careful not to touch any part of the stove when I was putting more wood on the fire.

Dad making syrup in the garage.

Dad stirring the sap that was boiling down.

     As the sap boiled it would get a foam on it that we would skim off and throw outside on the ground.  This foam contained dirt and bugs that may have gotten in the sap or fallen into the pan on top of the stove.  The sap would begin to reduce and get thicker and sweeter.  After a few days of boiling the sap down it would soon be thick enough to be watched constantly because it was almost ready.  I remember Mom bustling around the kitchen getting jars ready and pots on the stove to be ready for the syrup when it was brought into the house.  As soon as the syrup was ready, Dad would put a filter in an old metal milk can and he and Mom would pick up the pan and pour the syrup over the corner through the filter.  Dad had a spigot added to the pan one year and that made pouring the syrup off a little easier.  When the milk can contained all the syrup the pan was set outside in the snow.  I remember running to get a spoon once the pan was set in the snow.  I would use the spoon to scrape up the syrup from the pan as it started to harden slightly.  It was so good that burning my mouth with hot, sticky goodness was worth it.  Meanwhile Dad and Mom would have carried the heavy milk can into the house.
     When the syrup was brought into the house it was checked to make sure it was thick enough or dark enough.  If Mom didn't think it was quite done it would be poured into a large stock pot and boiled a little longer.  If it was ready it was poured into the stock pot and brought back to a boil and then poured into quart jars and sealed.  One batch would make about 2 1/2 gallons of syrup.  The jars would then sit on the counter for a day or two so we could make sure they had sealed before they were taken to the cellar for storage.
     Back outside the pan that was sitting in the snow was washed and set back on top of the stove.  Then it was refilled and the process was started all over again.  Sometimes if it was late in the evening when the syrup finished we would wait until morning to start the next batch so Dad and Mom could get a good night's sleep.  After all our syrup was made for the year Dad would pull out all the taps, we would gather up all the buckets and wash everything that we used to make syrup before it was stored away until the next year.

*The pictures were taken sometime between 1988 and 1991.


My parent's don't make maple syrup anymore, they stopped many years ago when I was younger.  Over the last two years I've been ordering my maple syrup from Mount Mansfield Maple Products in Vermont.  I used to buy it at the grocery store, but I could only get small bottles that were very expensive and didn't taste like the syrup I had eaten when I was a child.  When I looked for a supplier to purchase maple syrup in larger quantities I found this family owned and operated business in Vermont and tried out their products.  The first taste I had of the Grade A Dark Maple Syrup I bought from them brought back memories of the syrup that I had growing up.

*This is a product I've used and liked.  I have not been asked to write a review for them.

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  1. That's so neat. Just like Little House in the Big Woods. Love the pictures.

  2. This was a sappy story! Sorry, I just had to!

  3. Ahahahaha! Jeff.

    We buy our syrup from a local farm here, but I have no childhood memories to compare it to in order to know if it tastes as good as it could! I might have to order from your Vermont company once to compare theirs to this one. lol


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