In this series of essays I will introduce you to the idea of Backyard Sugarin’. Then, in the next four essays, I’ll tell you about how we tap trees, collect sap, boil it down, and finish it off. I’ll also provide lots of pictures along the way.
Some people question why I make maple syrup at all. They see it as a lot of work for a relatively small amount of finished product.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just buy maple syrup?” That’s the kind of question I get from people who have never done Backyard Sugaring. Folks who have made their own maple syrup don’t ask that question.
And then there is the matter of cost. When my coworkers hear that I’m actually taking a few hours off from work to help make a few gallons of maple syrup, they question the economy of it: “Boy, that’s going to be some expensive maple syrup when you figure your time off into the equation!”
Well, it so happens that making maple syrup with my family isn’t about saving money, and it isn’t about doing what’s easy. It’s all about working together as a family, doing something that is productive and enjoyable, which doesn’t cost much money to do. It’s all about getting outside in the fresh spring air, walking through the woods, feeding a wood fire, and standing over a boiling pan of tree sap, while breathing in the maple steam. In the end, we end up with sweet memories and sweet syrup.
So that’s why we make maple syrup.
People who have done their own Backyard Sugarin’ (even if not as a family tradition) don’t question the economics and work involved. They know there is an intangible something that is very special and downright satisfying about making maple syrup. Rink Mann, in his book, Backyard Sugarin' puts it this way:
”I’ve got to say that there is something magical about sugarin’, and if you talk with people who make maple syrup, either in a big commercial evaporator or out in the backyard, you’ll find out there’s a lot of agreement on that fact.
Maybe it’s the time of year—the warm sun climbing higher into the sky, warming the back after a long winter, turning the snow to piles of white corn, turning the brooks from trickles to torrents, starting the maple sap flowing—a sort of hint of the Spring and Summer lying ahead. Maybe it’s the drip drip of sap falling into the buckets, the telltale aroma of boiling sap, or the hissing sound of sap in a rolling boil. Maybe it’s the magic of converting sweet water, as the Indians used to call it, to delicious golden syrup. But whatever it is, it’s there.
My first experience with making maple syrup came, like so many other first experiences, after high school when I headed off to further my education in Vermont. While there, I spent part of a spring day helping collect sap from buckets hanging on trees, and I spent some time watching the boiling operation in the sugar house. I experienced my first drink of warm maple syrup, right out of the evaporator. One drink, and I was hooked.
It would be a few years before I had land of my own with a few maple trees, and a few more years after that before I finally got around to getting my own sugaring operation going. Part of the delay was that I didn’t really think I had enough trees to justify making syrup, and the sugaring equipment was expensive.
Only after I read the book, Backyard Sugarin’, by Rink Mann did I realize that I didn’t need a lot of trees and I didn’t need all the fancy maple-syrup-making equipment. That book opened my eyes to the whole concept of really-small-scale backyard maple production. It is a very good book that I recommend wholeheartedly. Mr. Mann has this to say of Backyard Sugarin’ in his Introduction:
”The real challenge in backyard sugarin’ is to find ingenious ways to collect and boil down sap without spending any money, and I must say I found a whole breed of like-minded people. Backyard sugarin’ builds interesting friendships, a kind of fraternity, I suppose, born of a mutually parsimonious nature.”
I like to think, too, that most backyard sugarers must have a little of the moonshiner’s blood in them. And there are a surprising number of similarities between boiling maple sap and distilling out the old mountain dew. In both cases you’re separating water from something else. In the case of sugarin’ you want what’s left in the pan after the boiling, while with moonshining it’s what comes off that counts. In both cases, too, you try to set up operations in a nice secluded spot, where you won’t get laughed at for your mechanical eccentricities (in the case of sugarin’) or arrested (in the case of moonshining).
The title of this series of how-to essays is the same as Mr. Mann’s book because his whole philosophy of small-scale, home-scale, on-the-cheap syrup making is summed up nicely in the book’s title; Backyard Sugarin’. His informative little book was the inspiration I needed to make my own maple syrup. Perhaps this series of essays will be the inspiration you need to start making your own maple syrup.
To be continued....
Click Here to go to Backyard Sugarin' (Part 2): Tapping Trees