There are really no words for just how loathsome it is outside right now. Snow, then freezing rain, then more snow and more rain. Gushing torrents of rain and it’s 40 degrees so the snow has turned to a foot of sloppy mush. Tonight will drop back in the 20’s so tomorrow morning the yard will be a rock-hard skating rink that will turn to slush by mid-day. Yep. You gotta love spring in Western Massachusetts
The only redeeming feature I can come with right now is the appearance of buckets on the sides of the maple trees that line the back roads where I live. True. A lot of the metal buckets have been replaced with plastic tubing and large plastic holding tanks but there are enough old timers like us who boil maple sap down to syrup, not for a living but to provide syrup for our families and maybe a bit extra to sell at roadside stands.
We can’t afford to upgrade like the big operations have. We still hand-drill holes, pop in old stiles and hang on buckets that have been in the family for decades. Twice a day, we haul out a wagon and make the loop around the neighborhood, emptying buckets into larger barrels and bringing them home to boil in the backyard.
It isn’t hard to do but it does require a certain diligence and enough extra time to boil for several days.
40 gallons of sap is needed to produce a single gallon of syrup but it’s a food that cannot be replicated.
The difference between Grade A, light amber syrup and that awful mixture of maple flavor and corn syrup you buy in a bottle at the market is worlds apart. If you have never had the real deal, do yourself a favor and stop at a roadside stand and buy a single bottle. Make up a batch of pancakes and indulge.
I am so hoping the snow holds up for a little while longer. One of the fun things our church does is hold a syrup-on-snow night. The conditions must be just right. First, you need a good sugar year and it has to coincide with a good snow year. And you need to take your own pickles. You need some nice, briny dills to go with this treat.
Now boil up your syrup until it reaches the soft ball stage. Have the kids go outside and collect clean snow from the middle of a snow bank and pack it solidly into cake pans.
Have the kids carry their pans to the boilers who will drizzle syrup in thin streams down onto the snow. The syrup immediately hardens into gooey delicious strands. Now pick it up in your fingers (you can use a fork but everyone will know you’re a novice if you do) and let it slide into your open mouth. You’ll need a bite of pickle every few bites to cut the sweetness and cleanse your palate.
Some people insist on a side of Saltine crackers with this treat but I never saw the point. I have been known to enjoy a cup of hot apple cider vinegar with my sugar but most people give me funny looks about it.
Every season has its traditions, little pleasures to counteract the hard work and challenges. I’ll tolerate the mud and slush of March as long as I have syrup!