Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maple syrup from OUR backyard?!

When Larissa came in after a walk in our woods last week and told me that someone had tapped many trees, I was stunned. I’ve lived here over 20 years and no one had tapped trees before. I didn’t know that there were trees that could be tapped! Not that they were my trees; only a small part of the woods actually belongs to us. It’s just that no one seemed to use the woods at all other than our family. We have bonfires and cook over the fire. George cuts a tree now and then and Jacob chops it into firewood. I’ve dug up ferns to transplant into my garden. And the girls spend hours in the woods, hiking, stalking deer, spending time in nature. They know where the deer sleep, where the screech owl nests, and where the skunk has its den. We’ve always thought of the woods as “ours.”

So who was tapping “our” trees? We wanted to find who the mystery tapper was and considered leaving a note on a tree by the pails. But in the end, we didn’t have to. This Saturday, Larissa burst in.

“I think someone’s collecting the sap. Could you go with me and see?”

That’s how we met our new neighbor, JD. JD doesn’t live next to us; he lives w-a-y behind us in a house on the top of a hill overlooking our neighborhood. He owns the lion’s share of the woods that my daughters play in. And he had just moved in six months ago. Since JD works as a nature guide when he’s not working as a Language Arts teacher, he knows by the bark which are the sugar maples.

“But you can tap any maple. It’s just that sugar maples have the highest sugar content,” he said.

I learned all kinds of things about maple sugaring this weekend:

- That it takes about 43 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

- That you finish boiling sap when it reaches 7 to 7.5 degrees above the boiling point of the water (the water boils at different temperatures, depending on elevation and pressure).

- That I can make maple syrup from trees in my backyard!

JD was kind enough to allow me to take some sap. So this weekend for the first time ever, I made maple syrup by placing large pots of sap on our wood-burning stove. I suppose we can eat it later this summer when we’re eating our other wild foods. Mmm!

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What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)