It’s been a good week for sugaring. The nights have been really cold and days up in the 40’s and 50’s. The cold evenings and warm days are key to a successful sugaring season. The sap runs good during the days. All through the little hilltowns, farmers are collecting the sap. They pump the sap out of the giant barrels into tanks on the back of their trucks. Some farmers still use galvanized buckets with lids to collect their sap. Being an old-fashioned girl I prefer seeing the buckets hanging on the trees. But pipeline is much more efficient and time-saving.
Just up the road from our house there’s a great look at past and current sugaring technology. On the left, you can see pipeline and a big plastic lidded barrel. On the right you can see the old-fashioned buckets hanging on the trees. They’re both doing the same thing, collecting sap.
Most farmers who make syrup do it for fun, for an additional income, and to be outside amongst the trees and all that nature has to offer. It’s a whole bunch of work but a project a whole family can help with. The season is short – about six weeks from start to finish. As The Farmer says, by the time they are sick of it, it’s over. That’s an easy way to farm, considering all the hours and months we put into our sheep and lambs. Most sell the syrup by direct marketing or many sell it over the internet. Most small producers I know have a list of customers who have found them while traveling through the area. The travelers become customers for life – having their syrup shipped to California, Florida, even Japan. Or they take a drive from Boston during sugaring season to pick up a half gallon to last them through the year.
My neighbors just up the road tap many, many trees. Sugaring season is a family project for all of them. We sugar vicariously through them – like many of you said you “sheep farm” vicariously through my blog! We did make syrup for a few years when we first moved here which was great fun but when Julia was diagonosed with diabetes we decided to put away our evaporating pan for awhile. It didn’t seem fair to tempt her unnecessarily.
Our neighbors are resourceful Yankee country people. They re-cycled way before it was cool. For them, re-cycling is just regular life. They may have piles of stuff around their barns, but for them, everything has a purpose and another life. We are forever asking them if they might have this or that…. The answer is always yes – it’s out in the barn.
Here’s their sugar shack. One of their dairy farmer friends wasn’t using his silo anymore. They took the top off the silo and turned it into a funky sugar shack. Inside the wood is stacked around the edges. There’s a little boiler where they spend evenings feeding the fire. This year they’re getting lots of their wood from a business they know which is doing some demolition. They’re taking all the wood and using it for fuel. It is staying out of the landfill and turning their sap into sweet syrup.
If you can, take a drive to sugar country this weekend. You’ll partake in one of the rituals of spring. Here's a recipe for you I developed a few years ago. It's a great way to add a little maple flavor to pork or a roast chicken. Enjoy.
Kristin's Maple Spice Mud Rub
5 cloves garlic mashed with a little olive oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. I like this best on pork or chicken. Before grilling outside, I rub the mud all over the meat and then grill as usual. I also use it on pork roast that I cook in the oven.