Tales From Sugar Camp #2
Meet the new month, same as the old month. After a February thaw just before Super Bowl Sunday, prompting an early and alarming start to sugarin’ season here in New Hampshire, it’s been brutally cold non-stop. A few warm days here and there, the spring tease. Cue the jokes about False Spring and 2nd False Spring, also known as Nope, Still Winter. Like, just enough warmth to draw the sap from the maples.
Early reports suggested the season could be abnormally short, then we wondered if it’d even begin! And now as it wraps up, it’s been described as “textbook” in a recent news story. And I’m hearing from a few local maple makers that it’s been a record season! The cold pays off.
I listen to a lot of music while boiling late into the night, usually on repeat. One such track, Noah Kahan’s anthemic pop single Homesick, angstily (but with a touch of backhanded pride) fist-pumps “I’m mean because I grew up in New England,” a direct reference to the weather and curmudgeonly attitudes often displayed among old Yankees with little sentiment for, well, anything. And our genetic disposition to enjoy being miserable. “The weather ain’t been bad,” he sings, “if you’re into masochistic b...s….”
Ah, the sugar maker says, if I may quote a t-shirt I saw: Cussin’ the weather is poor sugarin’. If you want to make an omelette, you gotta break a few eggs, right? Well if you wanna make syrup you gotta freeze a few of your toes off. Sounds like Noah Kahan hasn’t spent enough time watching sap boil. Is there anything cooler than holding a pint jar of maple sugar knowing it was a drum full of sweet-tasting water you caught from a tree just a few hours ago? It’s wicked fun! Makes me never wanna leave New England.
If poor Noah Kahan found himself a sugar house, maybe he’d change his tune – and stop writing such melodramatic dingers such as “Time moves so damn slow / I swear I feel my organs failing / I stopped caring ‘bout a month ago / Since then, it’s been smooth sailing.” The old man Yankee in me is taking off his Patriots cap and shaking his head. Time moves so much faster than it used to be; if only we could all move so slowly. Take the time to care.
However, our pop star has his points. As the season does indeed wind to a close – as the south-facing slopes lay bare, still unreachable and blockaded by two feet of snow lying northerly, as trees bud and the daffies shoot their shots from the edges of old homes, it just remains bitter and unpleasant and raw outside. Friends on the seacoast send me pictures of their picnic lunches upon the brackish waters down old Route 1 and I kick a stubborn snowbank and try to remember what a foot-tall patch of grassy pasture looks like – my sheep baa at me, wondering the same. The early April weekend promises snow, then rain, then snow again. And then wind. Power-outage kinda stuff. In like a lion, then the lion stays.
I boil outdoors, mostly on the weekends, so I must embrace the cold. As the weekend boils continue – endlessly – I swear I can feel my organs failing….I don’t to be boiling on Easter. On Easter, I want to be dousing maple syrup on a slab of roast ham, wiping my plate with a croissant. Anything but more boiling.
So I can sympathize a little with Noah Kahan. Of course, his song is titled Homesick, but he sings of being sick of his home. I don’t even feel a wink of sickness of my home – this Sandwich Range jungle I’ll never tame – as much as I don’t want to boil, boil I will. I will get it done, and get the next thing done too. While I watch sap trickle into the pan, I think of the cilantro and chives and kale reaching for the grow lights; I think of the baby Australorp cheeps napping under the heat lamp and stretching their little legs. Their tiny chicken feet are cute and adorable, but in just a few months they’ll be full-sized and knee-deep in pasture, doing chicken things. In six months, I’m sure, I’ll hate gardening and moving birds around and daydream of boiling sap again. Oh, to boil every weekend for a month straight! The joy and excitement!
Aww, I’m starting to miss it already. I’ll go enjoy my final boil, the smell of sap-almost-syrup, the beauty of the flame reaching for the stack, caressing the bottom of the pan, sending heat in the form of tiny air bubbles through the sap, the smoke curling from the stack up through the budding maple trees, Whiteface a snowy slab peeking at me through their branches. As soon as the last bottle is capped, the last bucket is cleaned, and the last errant piece of firewood is back in the stack, though, it’s on to Spring things. Then on to Summer! And Fall! And yet again, Winter.
We New Englanders might gripe each season for a different reason, but we also enjoy every season for a different reason. So join me for a moment and say thanks to the maples for their beautiful gift: ‘Tis the maple season!
Thanks for reading! Don't forget we sell our syrup right here at our online farm store! And stop by our growing farm stand on the weekends for syrup, eggs, candles, salves and more!