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Tapping into the maple syrup mystique

By Barbara C. Brace

Around our house, it's Maple Madness time! My husband Millar, his brother Steve and I, along with maple syrup enthusiasts all around the area, are obsessed with making maple syrup.

Just what is it about maple syrup making that instills so many people with such zeal? After all, it's labor-intensive. It's expensive. It's exhausting. It's muddy outside. It's weather-dependent. And it takes 40 gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of syrup!

So, why do we do it? You might say, "For the money!" Rest assured, the profit -- even for commercial producers -- is not the impetus. A weekend of helping us with sugaring prompted my city-boy brother-in-law to guffaw, "$40 a gallon? It ought to be at least $100!"

Here's how maple syrupers themselves describe the irresistible draw of "maple madness."

Teenage brothers Eric and Kyle Harvey of Kirkville learned how to make syrup from their dad Curt and their uncle who ran a maple syrup business.

Now, along with 15-year-old neighbor Andy Oot, "maple time" means the young men spend a half day tapping seven or eight trees in the Harveys' yard, another half day getting the stove ready, and another day of gathering the sap and boiling it down into syrup -- sometimes producing only about a quart -- which they divide three ways.

Their equipment consists of some recycled hotel-style serving pans, and whatever heat source is easily available -- a barbecue grill last year; this year an old wood stove that makes it easier to control the heat. They don't use thermometers, but Eric's dad taught him that "when the syrup 'hangs on' to the spoon," it's time to get ready for his favorite part: Tasting it.

Eric said he believes the part of his personality that makes him so suited for maple syrup making is twofold: He loves the outdoors, and he loves the sugar.

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