Usually by this time of year the sun is blazing in all it’s glory. The garden abounding with beans, tomatoes, zucchini and the like, the lawn turning an attractive mustard, burnt color, Ahhh the heat. That is certainly not the case this year. Due to the late spring this season’s harvest seems delayed – by a lot. Both the tomato plants I started from seed in January, as well as the tomato plants that I bought in May have only yielded a handful of produce this year, whereas in other years there have been grocery bags full of ruby red tomatoes of all sizes by this time. After hearing newscasters this winter and spring go on and on about a ‘polar vortex’ that was taking place, and predicting milder temperatures in the coming months I was skeptical. It sounded a bit made up to me, I may have even scoffed a little. Well, it’s time for me to eat my words of disbelief, they may be the only things to ripen this year.
Maple Sugarer: A person who taps maple trees to produce maple syrup and other maple flavored products.
As the days get longer and the temperature warms one can tell spring is in the air. After a long winter of being cooped up indoors to escape the cold, many jump at the chance to enjoy the outdoors again in warmer temperatures. The tell-tale drippings of melting snow signify a lesser known event as well – the beginning of maple syrup season. When the temperature raises above freezing during the day and below freezing at night, sap that has been kept in safekeeping in trees’ roots starts flowing up and down the thick trunks of maple trees as Mother Nature prepares the forest for growth.
Maple sap comes from tapping trees in the springtime during that flow, or run as maple sugarers call it. Traditionally, to tap a tree one drills into the trunk two inches and fills the hole with a spile or spout. A bucket is hung from a hook attached to the spile. This allows the maple sap to run out of the spile and fall into the bucket.
Drip, plunk, drip, plunk, drip, plunk. The sound of the forest during maple syrup season has a calming quality to it. It is easy to be mesmerized by the sound. However, there is little time for that since the run happens for such a short time of the year. Whomever coined the sap flow a ‘run’ knew what they were talking about – for about 6 weeks sugarers are running around the forest in a frenzy tapping, collecting sap once, maybe twice a day and then spending a full day boiling down the sap in a sugar shack every few days until it reaches just the right density to make syrup.
Evaporators are used often to boil down maple syrup. Evaporators are specially made units to increase a fire’s heat efficiency, in this case to make maple syrup. They can range anywhere from 2 to 12 feet long, depending on the size of one’s operation. Evaporators have an arch, where the fire is started and the wood is loaded in to feed the fire. On top of the arch are a set of pans. These pans have flues in them, little raised inlets which increase the surface area of the pan and this is where the increased efficiency comes from – the more surface area of the pan, the faster the sap evaporates. On boiling days steam rises off the pans in clouds and comes billowing out vents at the top of sugar shacks like clouds of maple-flavored cotton candy!
When the boiling is done everyone breathes a big sigh of relief! Until it needs to be done again, that is. The run is a busy time indeed!