I dreamed last night that Jimmy Fallon invited me to come on the Tonight Show to tell all of America how I’ve been spending the pandemic. I got all dressed up and had my hair done and sat in a chair for television makeup and they sent me to wait in the green room which turned out to be a lavish Hell-themed basement night club like the one in the TV show, Lucifer. The bartender was my friend J. W., and he was happy to see me and served me a fancy blue cocktail and spent a lot of energy cleaning up after me. I had no purse and therefore no way to tip him, but it was so awkward failing to tip a person I’ve known about twenty years that when it was my turn to walk out and talk to Jimmy in front of a live studio audience I was distracted and slightly agitated and therefore hilarious.
Absolutely no one on camera in the dream was wearing a mask, and absolutely everyone backstage and in the audience was. In my dreams, the pandemic is still raging, and I am participating in the making of “everything is okay” propaganda.
Anyway, so, ok, this one time, a couple of summers ago, when it was hot, I made everyone come with me to the feed store in Connecticut to buy a water trough for the dogs to splash around in. Some water dogs love a plastic kiddie pool, and, but, so, I decided to pop for a galvanized livestock trough, being less of a plastic eyesore. While we were at the feed store we oohed and ahhhhed over fancy chicks and buckets and our son’s girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, found the little metal things that you hammer into maple trees to get sap. It certainly wasn’t sugaring season then, but, yeah, sure, we have maple trees, and, wow, what a great idea, so we bought those, too. And when we got them home, we threw them into that particular drawer in the kitchen with the new batteries, the possibly-dead batteries, the random lengths of twine, zip-ties, the measuring tapes, the third worst pair of scissors in the house, and several kinds of tape (masking, packing, duct). Henceforward, the little bag of metal things for hammering into maple trees were forgotten for several years.
I found them when we were looking for batteries. In fact, it was just in time to use them.
Of course, we do have maples. Somewhere in our few acres of wooded wetland, definitely some maples. I mean, some of the trees are oaks (they have acorns), some of the trees are beeches (they are smooth and keep their dead leaves all winter) and, heck, also, I can identify the black birches (a different kind of smooth-ish bark), and, yes, when they have leaves, I know maples (just like the Canadian flag). During a brief but memorable outdoor ed program I did in elementary school (we went spelunking, and rappelling, and learned the major differences in the common trees of Missouri), I learned to tell a maple from an oak based on leaves. Of course, now we have apps for this, don’t we.
But here we were in late winter and I noticed that someone else in the neighborhood had hung buckets on their maple trees so I realized we could, too. This is one of the recommended ways of knowing when to tap your maples: see if your neighbors are tapping theirs. Ok. So, but, how would we know which of the dozens of trees in our woods were maples?
The Bacon Provider went for tools. My oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, looked up pictures and descriptions of bark. I puttered around the kitchen hoping no one would expect me to be the judge. Some trees were identified. A drill was produced. We had an assortment of buckets, two enormous and three small, and one we borrowed.
Trees were tapped. Buckets hung. We awaited the dripping of sap.
One tree began producing sap immediately. The others did not. We wondered if we’d picked the wrong trees. Some of us had more anxiety about this than I did. I insisted that my oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, probably knew which trees were maples. Certainly they had a better idea which trees were maples than we did. And randomly choosing other trees was not going to improve our odds. Within another day the sap was running from all the trees. They were, in fact, all maples.
It takes many enormous buckets of maple tree sap to boil down to a few tiny bottles of maple syrup, but we had everything we needed. We have an outdoor burner and a huge brewing kettle. You have to boil the saps for hours and hours; we had to go get more propane. The Bacon Provider used various filtering techniques, including using the nylon brew bag we use for beer making as a filter. You also need a large thermometer (another bit of home brewing equipment), and an accurate barometer.
Sugaring weather happens when the nights are cold and the days are sunny. The sap ran for a number of days. Our syrup has a mild maple flavor, with a hint of vanilla. We had breakfast for dinner to celebrate. Maple syrup from your own trees is improbable. And weirdly easy.
The syrup we made from the first few days ended up boiling down to a light amber; in subsequent days it ended up darker. Yesterday, which was probably the last day of the run, the Bacon Provider was juggling a full day of work calls and supervising the boil. He could have waited, but he didn’t. When I got home from dog classes, the house smelled of burned maple syrup. The Bacon Provider was so sad and frustrated about the burned batch. He did manage to salvage the pot.
Today he got his first COVID vaccine, so he’s forgotten about the disappointment of burning the last pot of syrup. We will wait a whole year for the next sugaring season. Meanwhile, he can go back to another of his hobbies: making perfectly clear ice.