Monday, May 5, 2008

A sweet sappy story

Wow, I had quite a brain freeze there - no blogging since St. Patty's Day! But here we go again.

This is an entry about one of the hobbies that Bing and I picked up in spring of 1972. At the time we lived in a rented house in the city of Rhinelander. Bing and I were thirty years old and Bernie was nearing 2 and Danny was a wee infant. There was a social worker colleague of Bing's who lived on some acreage in Tomahawk and every spring he would tap the Maple trees on his land and make Maple syrup. Bing was instantly fascinated with the idea of receiving such a marvelous product free from nature. He quizzed Kenny about the process and I went to the library to research the canning end of it. Another colleague offered us the use of some of her Maple trees a few miles out of town. And so began the sweet journey of catching the earliest crop of spring which continues to this day. Our efficient procedure now is quite a far cry from that first year when we clumsily boiled our sap in the rented kitchen. And, I do mean boiled and boiled and boiled, because that's what you have to do to get the priceless amber syrup. It takes 25 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup and imagine that little kitchen of ours humid and slippery from the evaporating liquid. The pot was boiling under the cupboards and the dirt and varnish of all the yesteryears of that little house was dripping right into our product but in the end it still tasted supreme and we were smitten with nature's bounty. We moved out to our present home that July and were happy to find that there were some Maple trees that would be good sap producers on our property. A Maple tree has to be about fifty years old to be tapped so it was particularly nice to find a few good ones. For a few years we just did about a dozen taps and made a few quarts of syrup . Then Bing, who had noticed acres of Maple trees in the neighboring Bible Camp, asked if we could tap some of their trees. Wahoo, we got the Ok and that continues to this day. Now, in retirement, Bing knows just the right time to get the taps out there and he uses a portable power driver to make the holes. He put in 65 taps this year and we made eight gallons of syrup. It was a tough year for gathering the sap because the snow was a couple of feet deep and the five gallon buckets weigh about forty pounds. The plastic bags hang from the taps on the trees. He uses our trusty four wheeler and ice fishing sled to travel through the woods and what a great help that is. He stores the sap in the garage in clean thirty gallon garbage cans until he gets about 100 gallons of sap. Then comes the full day of firing up the outside hearth that he made and boiling the sap for about twelve hours. Throughout the day he stokes the fire and adds more and more sap. The sap tells you when it is the right consistency and it is a crucial time in the process. He takes the big rectangular custom made pan off the hearth and pours the liquid into the pot from the turkey deep fryer that Bernie and Shelly gave us a few years ago and finishes off the boiling and clarifying in that over a propane flame. Then he brings it in and we keep it hot and filter it through flannel and can it. We label it and hand it out throughout the year to family and visitors and for door prizes. Once in a while we've sold a gallon or two but we don't make it for that. Recently I read that the USA is the only country with Sugar Maple trees so it seems like an especially sweet gift from God here in the northwoods of Wisconsin.

1 comment:

Bernie said...

Exellent educational and historical perspective piece.