Last Sugaring Day
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Today was the last day of boiling for the year at my father’s sugar camp. Maple syrup is a precious commodity, and it’s easy to see why when you take part in the process.
My boys and I joined my father for the day. It’s an annual event we all look forward to.
After we’d arrived, we started by gathering sap. Each with a pail or two in hand, we headed out of the camp and uphill to the maple trees. Weeks earlier, holes had been hand-drilled, spouts inserted and buckets hung. During a short window of time, when the weather was just right, sweet sap from those maple trees dripped steadily into the buckets.
Cool nights and warm days are essential for sap to run. By the time of our visit, sugaring weather had been waning, so this was to be the last sap collection for the season. This time, after we’d poured the sap into the larger collecting pails, we were instructed to leave the buckets and covers at the base of each tree, to be picked up later. “Why don’t we just bring the buckets down to the trail now?” one of the boys asked. The answer: “Because the buckets tell me where the spouts are!” And the spouts have to be pulled out of the trees, too.
Back at the camp, my father started the fires–three of them–and prepared for another day’s boiling. His camp is unique and built by hand. The main room has two brick arches to enclose the wood fires, each supporting two massive pans for boiling sap. The compact living area in back has own wood stove, plus table, chair and bunk for late nights boiling.
The pans heated, sap trickled in, and we waited.
Three hours later, at just the right moment and after several hydrometer tests, the first batch of pure maple syrup was poured off. From the finishing pan, it was passed through thick filters, then directly into the canning jugs while still piping hot. The kids’ favorite part is always the scraping and tasting the last of the cooling, thickening maple syrup from the bottom of the pan!
This also happened to be the annual overnight at the sugar camp, a day my boys eagerly await every spring. They each brought home a personal tiny jug of pure maple syrup–and I’m proud to say they know exactly how it came to our table.