I read a post by a friend on facebook today. They are starting their maple sugaring, or syruping as some call it. It brought back a flood of memories, ones held close to my heart.
I really loved my childhood, growing up in southern Michigan with my Mom, Dad, brother and sister. We lived a lot like my family does today, living the homesteaders life without actually intending to do so. That was back when you could actually do most of that stuff cheaper than going to stores, and my parents did it because we really didn’t have a choice. Buying pre-packaged food just wasn’t an option for us.
My parents had 20 acres of land. It had a small swampy area, a huge, spring-fed pond that we ice-skated on in winter, and woods and fields. We had an old barn that we would climb out onto the roof of and scare our mother half to death sliding off of into the snow during the cold winters. We also tore up her favorite pine tree doing the same thing, and it had to be 30 feet tall! Out in the woods there were huge wild grape vines hanging off the trees, and we would pretend we were in a jungle and climb and swing on them. And the lilac tree! You have never seen such a huge lilac tree! In spring I remember having friends over and cutting off all the bloom bunches we could reach (my Mom really loved that!) and pretending to bury each other under them, holding a mini-funeral service for each of us. It was what I consider the ideal childhood, with long, empty roads and woods and fields galore open to our exploration!
One of my fondest memories was of sugaring time each year. I remember when my Dad first got his taps and buckets. He was an avid reader of Mother Earth News and really tried most of the stuff. It was so exciting to put our first taps into the huge Sugar Maples in our front yard and watch the clear sap drip into the buckets! We would start in mid-February, and pray the weather would cooperate. It had to get just cold enough at night and just warm enough during the day to get the sweetest and greatest quantities of sap to turn into syrup. This was often the only sweet we could count on having the rest of the year, and we loved tasting the bubbling syrup at the different stages.
Our Dad worked all afternoon and until midnight, and we were in charge of gathering the sap and pouring it into large tubs. After we had enough sap collected, Dad would start a fire in the special hearth he had built to hold the huge metal pan. The sap had to boil constantly to evaporate the water, so we would watch it while Dad was at work, keeping the fire going and skimming the foam off the boiling sap. As needed we would add more sap, until we had enough boiled down to an amber, thick syrup. Then we would pour the syrup into large pans that we could put on the stove in the house and get the syrup thickened to our liking. My favorite was the thick, dark syrup, especially when it had a smoky taste from a little corner getting burnt a bit over the open fire. My Mom loved the light, golden syrup, and used it in a lot of her baking.
This was all a lot of work, but the time we all spent together and the stories and playing we did made it fun! I know I wouldn’t trade one of these childhood memories for anything. It’s good to have memories like that, and I sure hope you enjoy reading of them and have many of your own!