With such cold temperatures around here, it’s hard to believe that spring will ever come. Howling winds, freezing rain (what?) and — yes, even snow– has me desperate for warmer weather. Recently our family took a day trip to a high school friend’s maple tree farm. They have quite a large operation, and it’s been in the family for five generations! I felt like we were going back in time, trudging back a long and muddy lane to get to the trees. They tap over 200 maples (used to be 400, but they’re scaling back) on about 400 acres. We got to help with the process from start to delicious, dripping, mouth-watering finish. It was a reminder that nature always knows what to do, and when. And, even though it feels like winter– the sap is running, and spring is on the way!
The trees stretched to the sky, with buckets hanging to catch the sap. Erika, my friend that runs the operation with her family, told us we could taste the sap fresh from the tree if we wanted. All the boys tried it– they said it tasted like cold, slightly sweetened water.
Larry, Erika’s dad, showed us how he taps the trees (drills) to get the sap in the first place. Each year the tree needs to be drilled in a different spot, so it can heal from the last season. After drilling, a spile is placed into the tree and a bucket hangs on that. You know when it’s time to start drilling by paying attention to the weather. When the nights are still at or below freezing, and the daytime temps go above freezing, it’s time. This pattern of freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw is what starts the sap flowing in the trees. I don’t know who figured this out, but it’s fascinating to me!!
I told them to put us to work. We wanted to learn all we could about the process, in case we ever try this with our trees on the new property someday. We started by grabbing buckets, then trudging out to gather the sap. The boys loved it! I’m sure it would grow old if they had to do it on a daily basis for weeks on end, but that day they couldn’t wait to fill up the bucket, dump it into a barrel, and race out to collect more.
The next stop was the sugaring house. This was my favorite part. As we approached the building, we could smell firewood burning, and see the smoke rising into the cold air. Once inside, it was cozy, warm, steamy, and smelled faintly of caramel corn. They have an evaporator that they stoke with wood, and then it boils down the sap into syrup. Long ago folks used to have to stir it constantly to keep it from burning. Now, this machine keeps the liquid moving all on its own. We could hear the gurgling, boiling sap, and see how it went from clear (in one bin) to light amber (in the final bin). Erika and her husband Tom patiently explained things, answered our
Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of tree sap to make just ONE gallon of syrup?? That’s what those milk jugs and syrup bottle are all about in the photo up above. Just goes to show you how much work and time it takes to get something so delicious for the end result! And, speaking of delicious, we ended our hard work and time together with a reward of pancakes and (you guessed it) maple syrup. These cakes were cooked on a cast-iron griddle over an open flame. I think the combination of that and working up such an appetite made these the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted. The boys wolfed them down like they hadn’t eaten for days.
If you all ever get a chance to go and visit the Yoder Sugar Bush, do it! It’s a wonderful chance to get out into nature and see how something you eat ever gets to your table. Thanks, Tom and Erika (and all the Yoder clan) for letting us join you for the day. It was an experience we’ll never forget!