Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Fence and Maple Syrup Duet

I smell maple syrup.  As I continued working on post holes, Karen and Susan began evaporating the 100+ gallons of maple sap we've collected so far.  I write "so far" for two reasons.  One, the buckets still hang on our trees.  Two, the result of today's evaporation will determine whether we drink the sap, offer it to someone else, or keep boiling it.  The answer to the boiling question alternated among maybe and no throughout the day.

The big problem is we don't have a proper evaporator.  A lot of the heat from the wood being burned rose around the too-small evaporating pans and warmed the atmosphere instead of the sap.  The women kept a fire going all day in the fireplace that's part of our outdoor kitchen.  We rarely use that grill, unlike the adjacent brick pizza oven.  Susan brought leftover lumber from her place and Karen gathered fallen limbs from ours.  Gradually, they learned to keep the fire the right temperature so the sap wouldn't simmer too slowly or boil too fast. 

I checked in now and then, hoping to smell and taste fresh maple syrup, and be a cheerleader.  Right, I probably doused more enthusiasm than I offered cheer as I grumped my way along the final 17 holes.  Each of the first 7 greeted me with 6 inches of hard, tight gravel mixed with clay.  After banging and twisting the tamping bar, the post hole digger rewarded me with tiny clumps.  Fortunately, it took me only an hour and a half to finish the last 10 after suffering 4 hours on the first 7.  Meanwhile, during water breaks, I noticed the sap gradually turning darker and darker, clear to yellow to tan to brown.

My mood substantially improved after the post hole digger returned to the barn.  Instead of lying in the sun, as I had dreamed of doing, I planted more peas -- Wandos and Laxton's Progress -- and shooed a few chickens that had creeped into my territory, soon to be enclosed by a fence.

I joined the fire-tenders for while.  The sun slid behind our mountain, Susan claimed a pot-full and took it home to finish, while Karen needed a flashlight to check the remaining sap's progress.

"So what's the answer?" asks Virginia.

I'm getting there.  I heated up some leftovers for dinner, then headed off to orchestra practice.   When Karen said, "I'll probably still be here when you get back," I had an inkling of the answer.  When she wasn't there when I got back 3 hours later, I thought I might have been wrong.  I opened the back door and the odor of maple syrup greeted me.  Karen was finishing it off on our indoor stove.  She offered me a taste and, if I heard correctly, she's not ready to let the rest of the sap go to waste.

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