What It Boils Down To

It’s that time of year in these colder regions where the maple sap is running.  This past weekend a number of local people have been busy boiling down their sap.  On a Saturday complimented by a stellar-blue jay sky, friends and I were invited to the beautiful property of some generous and lovely people for brunch and their maple syrup boil.  As I watched the sap bubbling in the evaporator, many memories resurfaced.

Back in the day (the good ol’ hippie days of youth which I periodically and sometimes achingly refer back to in this blog), there used to be an old dairy farm that periodically held barn sales in the large barn that fronted the road.  You could always find something useful there.

1-old dairy farm

At the time, most of my pots and pans and dishes had come from the barn.  I had picked up a number of Warner and Soule cast spiles (taps), thinking they were kind of interesting and figured one day I might use them.  Sure enough, a few years later while living on acres of woods filled with maples,  we decided to tap them. The spiles worked just fine and looked similar to this:

09-maple spile-001

I didn’t have enough though, so I added a few of the more modern Grimm spouts like these:

10-maple spiles2-001

We had a very simple, great big evaporator that someone graciously made us out of stainless sheet metal.  It sat on cinder blocks surrounding a rather smoky fire, which we diligently tended to for hours and hours.  It took a lot of time and a whole lot of wood to keep it going.  Luckily, we had both plenty of time and plenty of wood back then. Even though it meant standing out in the cold all day long (including in cold drizzle), the time was spent with friends and family, being warmed by the fire we were feeding, “shooting the breeze,” getting lost in quiet reflection, and just enjoying each other’s company. It really ended up being a social event of sorts, devoid of electronic distractions. Food, of course, would follow. Metaphorically, what it boiled down to was much more than syrup.


This is the evaporator our friends have, which is actually nicer than the home-made one we had years ago, but ours worked pretty much the same way.

By the time darkness would begin to fall, we would be more than ready to come inside. At this point the sap would be boiled down a considerable amount so that it began to thicken.  It would then be scooped out of the evaporator and brought into into the house to be finished off on the stove – either the woodstove or the kitchen stovetop. This caused the windows to become ridiculously steamy, so the less you did inside, the better.

At the very end was the prize – delicious amber maple syrup and a sense of satisfaction.  It truly is liquid gold, especially if you consider that depending on the percentage of sugar content of your sap,  it could take many, many gallons of sap – maybe twenty to as much as eighty! –  to make even one gallon of maple syrup.  That’s a whole lot of boiling.  After the first year I did it on a much smaller scale using the wood stove in the house to get a cup or two at a time.  But needless to say, the end product was highly coveted.  Aside from using it on French toast and pancakes, it is a family ritual to pour it over freshly fallen snow to make “maple snow”.  Sap that had not thickened too much was poured into ice pop molds and frozen to made tasty maple pops too.

maple syrup snow

maple syrup on the first fresh snow

Back to the present day, after a wonderful brunch and a crisp, sunny afternoon outdoors, we were sent home with a jar from our host’s private stash.  I am grateful for both the hospitality and the trigger of  filtered memories.

1-maple syrup










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