Making Maple Syrup brings back many memories of family laughs, cold days and hard work.
The American Indians would tape a variety of trees but in this area we use the sugar maple. It has the richest taste and sweetness. I feel it cooks down faster too.
The farm I grew up on had seven huge Sugar Maples in the front yard and just across the road there were 20 or more Sugar Maples.
In January we would check out the condition of the metal buckets and metal taps and round up the other items we needed for making syrup. The beginning of February is usually the time we would start tapping maple trees. When we tapped trees depended on the weather. We needed cold nights below freezing but the days needed to warm up to about 40 degrees. The sap had to rise in the trees and settle back in the roots to make a good tasting syrup.
It usually took us about five days to tap all the trees we wanted. Often there would be a couple of feet of snow on the ground that we would have to fight our way through to get to the trees. And cold! I still remember coming in frozen to the bone.
We tapped only healthy trees and large trees. Our larger trees we could put four taps in. The neighbor suggested six but four taps were enough. There was no sense in taking too much sap that the tree would need for growth and leaves later in the year.
My brother and father used an old antique hand drill to drill the hole in the tree and spaced the taps around the tree equally. My younger brother and I would follow behind and hang the buckets from metal hooks that attached to the tap. We were now ready for another syrup season.
The sap would run quickly on a sunny day. We would check the buckets before we left for school and immediately after school. This meant an extra trip for our parents to pick us up at the high school, empty buckets and return us to school to participate in the sports we played in.
We would practice or play the games then get home around 9 or 10 pm and head out to empty the buckets again. The trees across the road had to be collected using a wagon and small tractor because of the distance from the house. It was a lot of work for kids in their teens!
The sap was stored in milk cans until the weekend and then we would build a big fire and get the maple syrup pan in place.
Our maple syrup production was for fun and we used what equipment we had or could borrow. We didn’t have a Sugar Shack so we built our fire outside in the wind and snow. We would burn the fire all weekend and just keep adding the syrup to the pan. Of course many of our friends or neighbors would join us around the fire. It would not be long before silly antics and preparations for lunch and supper would begin.
The fire would go all night and we would cook the syrup down as much as possible outside. It would be brought in for the final cooking on the stove in smaller pans. We had more control over the flame and could cook the syrup down to the right thickness.
The syrup would be put into clean clear glass jugs. If syrup is cooked to the proper stage it will not spoil. We would store it in a cupboard in the kitchen.
Our syrup processing was a crude method, but we made great syrup and even sold a little for profit.
It taught us responsibility and how to manage out time. It also lead to great outdoor cooked meals and all night cooking parties. We also had a few horror stories that happened along the way too.