Editor’s Note: Welcome to new blogger Dave Ross! Dave lives and works in Kidron, just a stone’s throw from Lehman’s store on the square. We think you’ll enjoy his reflections about life in our little village. This week, he’s been busy gathering sap, boiling and canning syrup for an annual church mission meal featuring homemade maple syrup.
At last! It’s beginning to feel like spring. The signs are everywhere. We waited a long time for this. Old man winter held a tight grip for too long. I’m seeing birds on my walks that I haven’t seen for a while. Bluebirds, Red Wing Blackbirds, Kill Deer, Robins. And they seem to be happy about the nicer weather too. They’re expressing their delight with beautiful trilling melodies and cheerful bird songs. It’s a sound we get so used to that we most often tune it out. This time of year, it’s very welcome sound — a sure sign of spring. Take a walk and listen. Brings cheer to the heart.
Little yellow flowers are beginning to open in the ditch part way up the Zuercher Road hill, and Mrs. A showed me her blooming crocuses. So happy for wonderful neighbors like them. They’re letting me tap their four very large Sugar Maples this year, and those trees are putting out large amounts of clear, sweet sap.
I spend a lot of time gathering and boiling from the sixty-three trees that we have tapped. My son helps me, and it keeps us hopping in the evenings.
As of today, we’re up to twenty seven gallons of syrup. It was a late season this year, and I was getting pretty nervous about having enough for our missions meal at church. Last year we served a little over five hundred people, and it took about six gallons for the meal. The syrup sales after the meal saw another thirty-three gallons go out the door. I will be okay. We’re getting close.
When the batch finished cooking this afternoon, the pan got a good scrubbing, and the syrup that had been collecting in stainless milk pails, waiting for the sugar sand to settle, was now ready to can. My method of “filtering” may be unorthodox, but it works. Maybe one of these years I’ll get a heated filtering pan like the big boys, and put up the syrup the same time it comes out of the pan. Maybe. But this works too.
When the clear syrup goes back into the pan for canning, we heat it to 185 degrees before pouring it into the jars. For all the years that we’ve been doing this, we still put the syrup up in regular glass canning jars. Pints and quarts. Most folks doing this have gone to the pretty plastic jugs–pints, quarts, half-gallons, and gallons. Nothing wrong with jugs, I guess, except that they have to be recycled or end up in the landfill. I still insist on glass jars that can be washed and used to put up beans or peaches later in the year, or used for syrup the next year. Just makes more sense to me. And one advantage is that in glass, the syrup will last indefinitely. Not sure you can say that for plastic. I know this, too: In glass, you can see exactly what you are getting–and to illustrate further–I’ve kept a pint of syrup in our pantry for eighteen years now. Canned it in 1997. It looks as good and fresh as the day it went into the jar.
Back to the job at hand. With the syrup heated up, and a stack of jars next to me, I spent the next hour-or-so filling four dozen quart jars, and five dozen pint jars. Looks really pretty all lined up, cooling down. Every now and then the lids make the pleasant pinging and popping as they seal.
After working rapidly at the canning until after dark, I peered out the door of the sugar shack, and lo-and-behold the ground was white! Sugar snow, they call it. The snowfall that comes in late March during sugaring season. It won’t stay on the ground long. Wonder what tomorrow will bring.