It’s been four solid days of evaporating maple sap into it’s stellar end product. The next time I hear anyone question the price of hand-crafted maple syrup I’ll let them come up and give me a hand for a couple of hours. First there is the collection of the sap and the transportation of the collected liquid to the sugar house. When you’re climbing steep hills through bouldered woods, carrying two five gallon buckets, in snowshoes it’s hard to imagine wanting to repeat the experience ever, never mind the fact that you must, twice a day, every day until the sap turns buddy. And then there’s the wood, cords of it hauled in from the outside, and piled on the floor in stacks so that you have enough to stoke the firebox every eight minutes, with big double arm loads, all day until the sap runs out or you shut the evaporator down to catch a little sleep. There’s the scooping off of the foamy scum that accumulates in the roiling pans, a sudsy, tan colored froth that fills the pans every fifteen minutes or so. Add to that the responsibility for ensuring that the floats and valves and take off spouts are all fully functioning, that the pans never run to under an inch of sap or syrup, that you transfer the near boiling syrup into a filter, then into a finishing pan where it is brought up to the correct temperature based on the Baum scale or the Brix scale, depending upon your preference and the barometric pressure that day.
Oh, I almost forgot that there is the bottling followed by the moving of the finished product into storage and then the hour plus of sticky sweet cleanup that caps it all. Every night. Every day. until the weather turns to full on Spring.
And then that’s the end of the maple syrup for another year.
So much work for such a simple product, for something so deceptively easy looking that you couldn’t imagine it if you tried. A free, clear liquid that the trees give up without ill effect, a fluid that someone laboriously manipulates until it turns into something totally different, completely unique and inexpressively delicious. It’s color, a mix of sunlight and fire is a white gold shade at the beginning of the sugaring and it changes gradually throughout the days until it becomes an amber hued liquid that is perfectly and quintessentially maple syrup from New Hampshire.
I burned my thumb, used myself to the point of exhaustion, spent countless hours away from the house beyond the usual farm day and I also learned immeasurably from the experience. And when no one else is around, at the end of the day in the sugar house, standing in the dripping air and smelling like a confectioner, I steal a couple of drops from the decanter and sip from a bent up spoon.