Bruce Bigelow likes to have something to do. When he was just a young sprout he used to help his aunt and uncle make maple syrup. He loves maple syrup. He looked around at all the maples in his yard and thought to himself, I am going to tap some trees and make some maple syrup. First he did some research and some planning. He found some books and a video over at the Central Lake Library and studied those. When Bruce makes up his mind things happen. He told me all about it.
A few days ago, the weather having arrived at favorable conditions for the Rising of the Sap, he tapped ten maples, setting up a tidy collection system of his own devising: recycled milk jugs, handcrafted hooks to hang them from the spiles (those little spouts hammered into the tree).
When daytime temperatures rise to springtime and the nights drop below freezing the sap flows. It looks as clear as water. Bruce pours the accumulation of each plastic jug into his Sit-N-Fish tank. Waste not want not.
From there we proceed to the ingenious wood-fired evaporation operation next to the woodshed. Bruce preheats the cold sap on one of those little gas backpacking stoves that you pump up. That brings it up to a good simmer pretty quickly, but the fuel is expensive. Thus the second step . . .
. . . a vintage wood-fired parlor stove, salvaged from a roadside giveaway. (Karen! Stop the truck! I want that stove! Karen has been married to Bruce a good long time now, and has acquired the patience of a saint. She stopped the truck.)
Yes, those would be Karen’s soup pots pressed into service. They are perfect for simmering maple sap which, when you think about it, is a lot like making soup.
You have to simmer it gently for a long time to bring out the flavor.
You have to keep skimming the foam from the surface.
Bruce is just getting started, but he says his trees are yielding 11 gallons of sap each day. He will have to boil down 33-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, so he has his work cut out for him.
While we talked we could hear pileated woodpeckers setting up housekeeping nearby. Bruce says he’s seen some large owls, too, and thinks they’ve been hunting for rabbits . . . and for pileated woodpeckers. (He found feathered evidence on his roof.) That’s Mama Nature for you. The sweet sap rises, the predator strikes. It’s enough to occupy a person’s mind.