Early this spring, my cousin posted on my Facebook page about making maple syrup, “The first hour goes great, the second is more tiring, the third I’m very sore, and after that it’s all a blur of pain and staggering through the woods trying not to fall down on the rocky ground.”
But, there’s something special about all this work. He ends his post by saying, “But it’s unique and fun, not to mention the family history connection.”
Sixty-five years ago, my grandfather bought several hundred acres of maple trees deep in the Adirondacks at the far northern corner of New York state. Grandpa used to say, if you go much farther north you fall off the edge of the world. What he meant was that you would fall into the St Lawrence Seaway.
Grandpa Elmer started making syrup that same year. In the 1960’s, my uncle Gilbert took over. Today, his daughter (my cousin) Kathy and her family start every March tapping those same maple trees. They first drill 2250 tap holes. Then they drive in the spouts and hang 1150 buckets. For the next four weeks, every bucket must be emptied every day. Grandpa did it with a horse drawn sled. My cousins use a tractor.
Tractors aren’t the only piece of modern technology. They’ve also run miles of tubing to connect 1100 of the taps and cut down on the manual labor. But, every year they’re still “staggering through the woods” with one of their 1150 buckets in each hand.
And, whether collected with tubes and tractors or buckets and horses, the sap is still boiled for hours over a wood fire, pretty much the way grandpa did it 60 years ago. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. And, three generations worth of love, experience and “sugaring” know-how.
Six weeks later, the work is done. My cousin Kathy and her family go back to their regular lives. And, Lehman’s gets its first shipment of a new season’s supply of fresh maple syrup.
It’s been years since I’ve helped in the sugar bush. After all this time, I still remember how impressed I was with the carefully stacked piles of firewood. I remember tap marks in the trees that were six feet off the ground because that’s how high the snow was when they were drilled. Most of all, I remember billowing clouds of sweet smelling steam so thick you can’t see across the room.
Over the years, the memories of hard work have faded, replaced by memories of family laughter, sweet smells (and tastes!), jars of syrup lined up on the window sill. But, the most distinct memory of all is the immense pride of accomplishment that came from producing perfectly colored and perfect tasting, 100% natural, maple syrup.
Like to try the real thing? True maple syrup is much sweeter than the cheap treacly corn syrup that comes in a squeeze bottle. Despite the sweetness, it has a light flavor and a distinct maple twang you can’t find anywhere else.
The most amazing thing about pure maple syrup? It will make your pancakes taste the way grandma made them. Click here to experience that flavor. (Or, click here to find everything you need to make your own!)
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s
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