Sunday, April 5, 2015


(I imagined those were the lyrics.  But no, it was “Summertime, Summertime, Sum Sum Summertime,” by The Jamies, 1958. Never would have guessed.)

The evaporator going full tilt

It’s that time.  Here at last, the sweet pungency of a smoky fire in a small space heating up an evaporator pan of maple sap.  Chris collected the sap from several of the Hustons’ sugar maples and other of ours (our very own sugarbush) in the woods behind our small sugarhouse.  It was so cold much of last week that the collecting buckets were filled with ice instead of liquid.

There is never enough wood...
Ben helps too.

Might as well read (that's Audrey, reading) while waiting for Dad

The hours can go by slowly while tending the evaporation process.  Ken helps Chris out with a sustaining beer.

The evaporator has walls dividing the pan into sections but the walls aren't closed all the way.  Sap, or shall we say syrup, moves freely between compartments.  The dividers help separate the more concentrated syrup.  Sap is added to one end and the finished syrup–many hours later!–migrates toward the pour-off valve at the other.  Commercial operators are into vacuum pumps to draw the sap from the trees (replacing mere gravity-feed), preheaters to recycle the heat lost to steam, and a process called reverse-osmosis takes a portion of the water out of the sap before it's boiled.

The non-commercial operation:  A sketch of how the evaporator works. Pretty simple, really.

The result, very fine and very sweet.

Inside the sugarhouse it’s too smoky to hang out for long.  We take time to put another log or so into the fire and dip a ladle into the bubbling sap to see how the flavor is coming along.  When you cradle a small mug in your hands full of the not-quite-finished sap it’s like drinking very sweet hot tea.  It warms you up, too, for outdoors there’s a chill breeze and remaining stubborn remnants of snow.  For two nights in a row we awoke to a white world after overnight snow.  But after only a few hours of morning sunshine it disappeared so completely that the sight of it early in the morning in retrospect seems like a hallucination.

Only Skyler's early morning footsteps disturb the snow

Only hours later the snow has gone, the ice melting–again.

I know this is a tired old cliché. but honestly, just as the trees rev up their juices, so we too feel something astir:  a need to get out there in the garden, a desire to clean things up, to walk in the woods––to do something that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be done in winter.  It doesn’t matter if you were out there and skied or snowshoed in the cold, when you are walking freely in the woods or meadow on an even slightly warmer day it offers a feeling of freedom.  And it takes you only seconds to get out there:  not ten minutes worth of donning jacket, hat, gloves, boots and what-all.  Even the dogs (I include Skyler’s sister Daisy, a frequent visitor) stay outside longer.   

The woods behind the sugarhouse, woods we tend to forget about much of the year.  Until spring.

A hummingbird nest from last season in the forsythia in front of the house.  Will it be used again?

Time to think about maybe grilling outdoors again–eventually.

Daisy (left) and Skyler sit atop the hill keeping an eye on the sugaring and the cleaning up.