Here's the scoop: March 19, 2013
Syrup: The Final Frontier
It would have been unfair to leave readers hanging regarding our first venture into the world of maple syrup production. So, today we reach the boiling point.
But not that fast. These things take time. Lots and lots of mind-numbing time.
Anyone with sensitivity to the cold realizes it has been pretty darn chilly lately. Especially when you’re outside. Even sitting next to a fire. Being rookies in the maple-making world, a sap house is not in the plans. Yet.
When we were finally ready to boil some “product,” we had collected about 25 gallons of sap — enough for a bit more than a half-gallon of syrup. That total was after we’d lost nearly 10 gallons through a slow-leaking storage container. Fortunately, that occurred outside.
Still, we did have to bring the sap containers inside before boiling to break up some ice accumulation. There was a bit of dripping. Maple sap, by nature, is sticky. Fortunately, the mess was not tree-mendous.
Finally, it was time to get the boiling party started. Maybe “party” isn’t the perfect word to use in this situation.
A reluctant recruit
When I was “convinced” to participate in this great experiment, I went along with the request under one condition: No use of my “good” firewood, or, as I like to call it “Huckleberry Reserve.” Not one stick.
As wood-burning types know, this is the time of year when piles dwindle and there’s concern over the wood outlasting the cold temperatures. Well, at least there is for me. My supply is ample. I inventory it often. We have enough — unless we find another use for this wood.
Anticipating our needs for the boiling operation, I have been gathering fallen branches and other odd scraps. I even whacked up a few broken pallets for the project. After a bit of prodding, the fire was roaring. Now, we just had to sit back and wait. This is the part about which I’d heard many tales. The stories about endless hours of boredom? They were understated. By a lot.
The part that wasn’t really mentioned was the cold. Probably because most folks I spoke to about the syrup-making process boiled inside a small hut. As noted, we aren’t yet at that stage — it’s an open fire. By definition, fire is warm, but a relatively small inferno is no match for wind-chills hovering barely above zero.
Like a Syrup Shark, I found the need to constantly keep moving. Adding sap, splitting wood into even smaller pieces and skimming impurities from the batch. Heck, I had so much time on my hands, I even made up a song (to the tune of the Spider Man theme), about being “Niter Man” (a reference to the “sugar sand” that’s common in maple syrup. Look for the video soon on YouTube.
Saturday’s boiling got a late start and the “small batch” process was certainly…small. And dark.
“Looks like 10W-30 grade,” was my observation. Still, the taste was good. Both tablespoons full!
Seriously, we made a bit more than that — but not a huge amount. Sunday would be the Big Boil — from morning until late into the night, as it turns out.
My patience, at that point, was running short. My energy was sapped. I wanted to be done. I headed straight for the Huckleberry Reserve and grabbed an armload to get the fire roaring. The addition of this prime fuel gave the fire an extra boost and the outdoor boiling soon came to a merciful end.
Now, it was time for “finishing” on the stove. The final product was indeed sweet and satisfying.
Still, the question remains: Will there be a “next year”? By then, I’ll have forgotten the aches and pains and the minor bout of smoke inhalation. And, I’ll qualify as a veteran of the Maple Wars. Certainly, I’ll write a series about Year Two to help defray the costs of next year’s project. Doubly-sweet.
— Brian Sweeney