It’s no secret that I love to go back to the farm. Each season offers up new chores, challenges and, of course, smells.
An early spring visit to the farm means less time in the barn and more time spent in the sugar bush. About 25 years ago, my dad, my brother and I built a sugar shack. We built an arch, picked up some buckets and evaporating pans and we were… boiling!
Each year we tap about 150 trees by hand; by “we” I mean my brother Ronnie. I usually stroll in just in time to haul buckets of sap, stoke the fire and sample. Quality control is very important 😉.
Is there anything simpler, yet more delicious than maple syrup? It’s an undisputed sign of spring. As the days start to warm and the night time temperatures fall below freezing, the sweet sap begins to work its way up from the roots. Depending on the weather – and that varies from year to year – the maple trees are tapped between late February and mid-March.
Knowing when to tap can be tricky unless you’re as wise as Grandma. Each spring when the topic came up at the dinner table, Grandma was quick to mention the sugar snow: “sugar snow makes the sap flow.”
With the first sign of spring, Grandma watched carefully for a light fall of large snowflakes. She believed the sweet sap would start to flow after the spring snowfall and she wasn’t far off the mark.
In the spring, when big puffy snowflakes fall and the accumulation is relatively light, it’s often as a result of the passage of a warm front. Behind a spring warm front, sunshine easily pushes daytime temperatures above freezing. Because it’s early April, those temperatures often fall below the freezing mark at night. Warm days followed by below-freezing nights will fill the sap buckets pretty quickly. And of course, after boiling down the sap, you’re left with beautiful golden maple syrup.
I have to tell you about something my clever mother did every year. Before all the snow had melted away, Mom would fill her old turkey roaster with snow and put it in the freezer. When we least expected it, usually on a hot summer day, she’d take the snow out of the freezer, boil down some syrup in a pan on the stove and we’d have taffy on the snow.
If you’re looking for something to do with the family, I can’t think of a lovelier spring outing than a visit to one of the many sugar bushes in the area. Pack your youthful exuberance but leave your fancy shoes at home – and enjoy!