It started out as a challenge to see if we could actually get maple sap from a tree in the backyard. That first of many late Winters we were thrilled to see our little measuring cup hanging on the maple tree have maybe four ounces of sap! The next year we took a class on maple sugaring at the local adult school. I knew James wanted to learn about it and I was hoping it would be a new hobby we could share now that our daughter had started her Freshman year at college. We loved sitting by the fire outside in the backyard bundled up in the cold weather with our shoes off near the fire ring the first year. It was tough, though, to burn that first few gallons before realizing how suddenly the syrup heats up and has to be removed from the heat! Each year we tapped more trees and emptied more buckets of sap into holding containers that had to be sterilized and buried in the melting snow until we decided it was time to make syrup.
Helping James make maple syrup was truly a happy memory but a lot of work in the cold which I do not like. Still, I'd think about the native Americans and colonists making it and remembering how it gave us a feeling of pride when it was finished. Our evaporator was handmade from 'spare parts' and many lessons were learned about how much the weight of snow on a tarp roof can quickly collapse the temporary shelter, length of time to cut and carry wood from one part of the yard to another, not being able to do anything that weekend of boiling and the difference in sap amounts from one Winter to another.
"I'm getting too old for this" he said. Part of me was happy he wouldn't be needing my help to stoke the fire so he could go in to eat lunch or keep him company while he stirred the boiling sap at 11:00 at night. Yet I was also feeling a part of me sad that this process we did together for quite a few years was over. No, I don't think 55 is old-isn't it the new 45 now? But trudging in the snow in the dark after work to collect maple sap was now a chore for James to do rather than seeing if we could really make enough syrup to give to people and have enough for pancakes until the following year. We did it but our daughter came home after graduation, the house felt so nice and warm inside and we both had other hobbies to devote our time to that were inside.
Maple syrup will never look the same to me again. I know how much work goes into making it, how precious the maple trees really are, the importance of trying something new and the value of regional horticulture and history. I usually bought maple syrup at the store and used it on my french toast or in cooking since James was the one who really put in all the effort, I hated to have him share it. He'd insist and it was delicious. This batch-I plan to to wait until the last drop to taste it.