Here's the Scoop: February 27, 2013

Stepping back in time
It’s been many years since I last took an active role in producing a bit of Catskill Mountain maple syrup, but I’m getting ready to give it another crack.

My first experience with syrup production occurred when I was quite small. One neighborhood family used to tap the series of sturdy maples that lined our street. Four large trees in front of our house were part of the supply, so the local kids helped with the task.
I remember checking the buckets to see how things were flowing, emptying the contents into a larger container and checking out the action in the sap house. Oddly enough, I don’t really have clear recollections of sampling the finished product. This is really strange, given my legendary sweet tooth.

The art of maple syrup making is a job that’s shrouded in tradition, with a small dose of secrecy in the mix. All of the “small-time” producers have certain methods they employ in the quest for the sweetest syrup and the finest maple cream. Most of these folks are quite happy to share their traditions — if you’ve got some time to listen. But, you never are quite sure that they’re giving up every detail of the methods they employ to make their particular syrup unique.

Own personal style
It’s not quite like the top-secret Coca-Cola recipe (especially since there’s only one ingredient), but many makers will tell you in hushed tones that they’ve got a production technique that makes their syrup stand out a bit from others.

In fact, I had one veteran syrup maker tell me (with a straight face), “Each year, I do a special little dance around the evaporator, the first time I boil. I can’t tell you why, but everyone says my products are a cut above the rest.”
Who I am to argue with success?

So, I doubt there will be any dancing happening with our syrup-manufacturing process (I save my moves for really fun weddings), but I may try to employ some secretive tactics to make our syrup stand out. Who am I kidding — I’ll be thrilled if I remember to empty the buckets before they freeze and crack.

Maple checklist
We pretty much have all the ingredients — buckets, lids, spiles. However, we are a bit short on maple trees (considered by experienced professionals as key elements in syrup production), but I’m pretty sure our neighbors won’t bark about loaning us some trees.

I have been getting pretty excited about this project. Until the other day, when someone mentioned that we’ll need plenty of wood for the boiling process.

“You mean ‘wood’ as in the fuel that I work so hard at cutting and splitting so that we can use it to help heat our house?” I responded.
Indeed, I was informed, the same wood.

Ironically, this is the time of year where I gaze at my dwindling woodpile for long periods, wondering if I logged enough hours in firewood preparation time for the entire winter. Now, I’m going to have to burn some of this prize fuel in the pursuit of maple syrup?

Something tells me that I shouldn’t do the math comparing the cost of a cord of wood vs. the $60+ value of a gallon of sweet maple syrup. It might sour me on the whole project.
- Brian Sweeney