The Season

When I was growing up, Lent meant two things: one, no desserts on Wednesdays and Fridays, no candy, no movies (we seldom went to movies anyway), and two, maple syrup and maple sugar. We didn’t have to give up maple sugar for Lent because that’s when it was available. My brother and I tapped the trees around the house, hung mason jars on the spigots, and collected the sap before and after school. I think my mother did most of the boiling, sometimes on an outdoor fireplace, sometimes on a gas burner in the basement, sometimes on the kitchen stove. We didn’t have candy, but we had home made maple sugar on the oatmeal. There were plusses and minuses to Lent.

Life is like that. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.” So it is today. It’s Shrove Tuesday and I tapped the maple trees.

Maple season is like grandchildren. I can’t wait for it to come, but after a while the charm wears off. Nothing so dominates my life. Once the trees are tapped and the buckets are hung, my life is not my own.

The buckets hold a couple of gallons; they seldom fill in a single day. But you don’t want to have them overflow and you don’t want to have to slog around in the mud and snow with too many gallons in the collection buckets. So once or twice a day, I make the rounds. I know some people use plastic tubes these days but that’s cheating. It’s not the old way. Besides, you need a surveyor’s skills to get the tubes stretched just right so the sap can run down into the reserve tank. And squirrels sometimes learn that they can get a sweet free drink by chewing through the tube.

Once I have maybe twenty gallons on hand, a boil begins. The woodpile begins to shrink as the evaporator fire consumes the wood and boils the sap. And the boil needs to be checked every twenty minutes or so. It’s not that far from the house to the shed, but it’s out of the easy chair, slip on some boots and a jacket, flip on the light (after dark) and trudge across to the shed, check the level of the sap (too deep, less evaporation; too shallow, danger of burning). Then back to the house for twenty minutes – and do it again.

Last year I had a fan installed on the evaporator to increase the draft and the boil goes faster now. I don’t have to keep it going all night, and that’s a relief. But for three to six weeks, it’s syrup time and everything else gets second place.

The Portuguese called Lent “The Season” – the “Tempore.” They say the Japanese named “tempura” after the Portuguese word for Lent because that’s when they saw the Portuguese eating fish. Be that as it may, it is indeed “The Season.” Six weeks from now it will be Easter, the Season will be over and I will no longer be candy deprived, sleep deprived, maple dominated. The syrup will all be bottled to share with appreciative friends and family. And I can resume a normal life.

1 Comment

LibbyFebruary 21st, 2007 at 10:29 am

syrup time already? Wow.

I’m not sure I’m happy to hear that the charm of grandchildren wears off, but oh well.

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