Monday, February 15, 2016

Making Maple Syrup

As we were growing up on the farm and February was coming to a close our minds went to an exciting time of the year.  The trees were changing the color from the stark black to a more gray color and there were subtle signs of spring approaching.  Daddy and Grandpa Gerow knew it was time to grab the bit and brace, the spiels, hooks and sap buckets and go the sugar bush.  It was time to tap the trees!  Daddy usually used the horses for this project as there would still be snow on the ground.  Grandpa had a nice little sugar bush (a group of sugar maple trees) on his property that we always tapped and we gathered that sap, put it in milk cans, and brought it to our house to be boiled with our sap.
Our sugar bush was on the Muck Road on land that Daddy owned there and also on the Rice Place that Daddy owned as well, but that was a little harder to get to.  Our sugar shanty was what we called the old cellar next to where I now live.  It was a neat little place and there was the neatest old velvet settee in there that Jerry and I used to take a nap on while we would sit with Daddy while the sap would boil.
Daddy would harness the team and use the stone bolt to carry all of his supplies and head out to the sugar bush.  He would use the bit and brace to drill to drill a hole in the tree, then drive the spile into the tree and hang the hook over the spile and hang the bucket on the hook.  The sap would drip from the spile into the bucket.  The temperature would have to get above freezing during the day for the sap to run and if the wind was out of the south the sap wouldn't run.  Once the trees were all tapped the real work began.  All of the sap had to be gathered and taken to the sugar shanty where it had to be boiled down to maple syrup.  It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.  We used milk cans to haul the sap from the sugar bush to the sugar shanty. It was hard work to lift all of those buckets off the trees, empty them into another bucket, then carry it to the wagon, and dump it into the milk cans.  Once back to the sugar shanty the big heavy milk cans had to be carried down the stairs and dumped into the boiling pan.  Many nights, Mother would stay with the fire while Daddy did the milking, then we would all stay for the evening, until the syrup was ready.  We would fill containers with the syrup and let the fire go out.  Mother would bake fresh biscuits and we enjoyed them with butter and fresh hot maple syrup.  Yummy!
Daddy and Al
After Al and I moved back to Pennsylvania in 1981 my brother and Dad wanted to build a new sugar shanty, so a plan was devised to purchase an old barn from William and Stella Irwin in Catlin Hollow,  They lived beside of the Catlin Hollow Cemetery.  We all worked at tearing the old barn down and hauling it down to Jerry's house on hay wagons.  Once it was all hauled and sorted the building was started.  A very fine sugar shanty was built at Jerry's house, once completed, it was painted barn red to match the rest of Jerry's out buildings.  Then the guys had to cut fire wood to keep the fire going to make the syrup.  A lot of the scrap lumber was also burned up at the same time.  Tim McConnell made a new sap pan and we purchased a hygrometer to make sure we were boiling our sap the correct length of time.  We also purchased specialized containers for our product.  We were ready for February to arrive.
Francis Spencer, Al, and Daddy
When it came time for us to accomplish the task that we had done as kids, it was sure good to have Daddy there to guide us along.  Jerry was still employed, so Daddy helped to get us started.  Jerry had a pair of Belgium work horses that he dearly loved to work with, so sap was hauled with horse and wagon just as it was when we were kids.
As a side note, Jerry and Al had worked to get the barn ready before Jerry got his work horses.  Once the stalls were all ready for the big horses, Jerry brought them in to the stalls with the new cement floors, but the horses ears rubbed the ceiling!  Oh, how we laughed!  I, being a smart aleck, made Jerry a "ear lowering kit" which I think contained some large rubber bands for the ears! My brother got that "funny" look on his face, you know the one that says, “Yea, you got me!”
Francis Spencer, Al, and Daddy
The horses pulled the wagon which had a holding tank in it to carry the sap gathered from the trees back to the sugar shanty.  Joanne and I helped the guys gather sap each morning and enjoyed doing it.  Francis Spencer got into the act also.  He was always eager to help out when there was a project going on, especially if it had to do with horses.
One afternoon, when the sap was really running, Daddy thought he and Al should take the tractor and a barrel and go up on the hill to gather some sap.  As Al told the story, they were going up the hill on the Ford tractor with a barrel full of sap. The tractor was off balance from the extra weight and nearly rolled over.  Al jumped off in one direction and the barrel of sap went in the other direction. It scared the heck out of both, Al and Daddy.  The barrel went all the way down the hill, almost to the creek before it stopped.  I am not sure if they ever told Jerry.

Al, Francis Spencer, and Daddy
Daddy would always want Al to take some of our eggs to the sugar shanty, so they could cook them in the sap as it boiled.  Eggs hard boiled in sap are a tasty treat!
At the end of the season, Joanne would always take the last of the syrup to the house and finish cooking it down there.  She would often make maple cream and maple candy.  We all used maple syrup to cook with throughout the year and had some to sell.  Once the trees began to bud the sap would be too dark and that would be the end of making syrup.  The taps had to be pulled and all of the equipment cleaned and put away for the next year.  By then we had probably seen a robin, or a flock of wild geese, and lots of what I hated the most, mud.  Spring was definitely in the air!  

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