I’m outside sugaring this morning. I had to boil today because my tree has been producing an average of 6 gallons of sap for the past couple of days, and I had no more containers to store sap in without a lot of trouble. The sun is bright and it is 26 F with a 10-15 mile-per-hour wind. Maple sugaring weather is good for sap but not for the poor saps that collect it and cook it down. I’m wearing a full-length down coat with the hood up, sitting covered by a doubled polar fleece throw, and the wind is out of the north. My left eyeball freezes whenever the wind gusts and my fingers are numb. That is why so many of the old-timers built sugar shacks that kept them out of the wind and retained some of the heat generated by cooking the sap. They could comfortably visit with friends and tend the fire and sap. I keep warm by ranging around the back forty doing odd jobs like collecting eggs and cleaning out garden beds to put another layer on the compost pile.
Since my setup is on the patio four or five feet from my backdoor, I can set my kitchen timer to remind me to check the boil’s progress every ten minutes. When the timer beeps, I grab my coat and turn it off as I pass it on the way to the door, slip my feet into my husbands boots, shuffle out the door and down the back steps and the few feet to the cooker. I skim the foam off the boiling sap in the larger warming pan and then do the same for the smaller finishing pan using a small stainless steel strainer with the handle broken off. I knock the foam out of the strainer into the snow. Removing foam helps the liquid maintain a uniform boil. (Foam on the surface impedes the boil.) Then I take my dipper (a stainless steel gravy boat with the bottom broken off–as you can tell, I don’t throw stuff away if I can think of new use for it) and move boiling sap from the big evaporation pan to the smaller finishing pan. (My setup is two stainless steel banquet pans, one full sized and the other half sized, on a two-burner outdoor gas stove that I also use for canning.)
This second run of sap is doubly special because the first run was so short, and I lost half of it in a boil over. I was tortured by watching squirrels lick syrup off the patio for the next week. I walked away from it for 10 minutes–I misjudged how close to done my smaller finishing pan was and thought I had time. The lesson I learned is that you must turn off the heat under the sap when you leave it unattended at that stage. (I boil my sap over gas burners so I can do this. If you cook your sap over a wood fire, you just have to tend the fire and the boil for as long as it takes–maybe set a week aside during the sap run and let it be your life.)
The pleasure of whining aside, you might ask why I do this maple sap boiling thing. If you live in a temperate climate for twelve full months, you understand what a miracle spring is after a 6 or 7 month cold spell. It boils down to this: When you enjoy maple syrup, you are tasting the concentrated essence of Spring. Begonia