This past weekend marked the end of prime maple syruping season in Western New York. This year was a little strange for the backyard bootlegger, as surprising warm weather had us tapping weeks before, only to go into a three-week below-freezing stretch, which promptly shut down our operation for a time. Finally, the weather broke and the sap began to flow. After a good week of collections, and hundreds of gallons of sap later, the trees started to bud signaling it was time to pull the taps.


The tractor and the tent . . . also called the "Yert"

This year we tapped forty maple trees, which went surprisingly quickly as there were six of us in total out working in the woods. In two teams of three, we set off. Our group of three took a little bit to get started . . . mostly because we didn’t know exactly which trees were actually maple trees. Apparently my Boy Scout training in plant identification is lacking. The forty taps were placed, which I believe is on the higher side for a small personal operation (noncommercial). In total, the trees generated over four hundred gallons of sap for us to boil, which we tackled this weekend. In general, it takes roughly forty to sixty gallons of sap to equal one gallon of finished syrup. Doing the math . . . that is a lot of water to boil off.

Sitting by the fires

Sitting by the fires. Papa Volk (left) and myself (right)

Those metal plates in front of the plates keep us from singing off our eyebrows.

Those metal plates in front of the cinderblock arches keep us from singing off our eyebrows.

The fires were started around 9:00 Friday morning and ran steady until about 8:00 on Saturday night. We finished up the remaining sap Easter Sunday afternoon after an additional six hours of boiling. In total, it took about forty hours to evaporate off the water, bringing our product to something close to syrup. While the fires are lit, it takes nearly constant attention to avoid boil-overs or scorching. The fires need to remain on full blast as best as possible, because each time the boil stops, the final syrup product will become darker (though still DEE-licious!). This means that often there is only about a half an hour break before another gallon or two of sap is added or more wood is thrown on the fire. It made for a night of about forty-five minutes of sleep total and quite a lot of wood burned.

Boiling Sap. Don't touch.

Boiling sap. Don't touch.

The tradition of wood-fired flat-panned maple syruping is definitely an experience with which I am glad to have had the opportunity to assist. The syruping process we did this weekend is the same that was used by many generations before us, and for me, that means a lot. Detaching from technology, sitting by the fires for two days straight, taking test sips of the boiling sap, and working hard to produce something friends and family can enjoy was an awesome and rewarding experience.

Perhaps I’ll be willing to share the spoils of our labor . . . Who wants pancakes?!