Here's the Scoop: March 6, 2013

Stay out of the woods
The response to last week’s column about my wife and me getting set to dip our toes into the sweet realm of backyard maple sugar production was a bit overwhelming.

You could say that folks came “out of the woodwork” with suggestions and really scary stories about the perils of the pursuit of maple syrup. It’s always nice to get some free advice.
Insights, of course, are about the only thing that’s “free” when it comes to syrup production. Nearly everyone I spoke to started off the conversation with the question, “Do you have…?”

Being novices in the maple world, we were equipped with pretty much none of the required equipment. That’s OK — this is an adventure. A costly one, apparently.

After contemplating all the comments from folks seeking to “help” with our project, we concluded that starting on a small scale was the way to go. The original dream of gallons was quickly whittled down to: “Well, if we have pancakes and French toast about 10 times per year, probably we could get away with a half-quart. If we go easy on the servings.”

Now this was a reasonable goal.
I’m just kidding about this, but it was the only way that I could stop folks from complaining about the drudgery of gathering sap and the long, boring hours of boiling.

Words of wisdom
“It’s like a combination of watching paint dry and grass grow — only much colder,” one longtime syrup-maker informed me.

“It’s the most boring thing I’ve ever experienced,” chimed in another veteran syrup-maker.
Certainly no one was sugar-coating the amount of work that goes into syrup production. Still, as I heard more and more discouraging words, I began to notice another trend.

Once the 15-minute lectures regarding this expensive, difficult and tedious work concluded, I began asking a simple question: “Why, exactly, do you keep making the stuff?”
The standard response to this query was a quizzical look, followed by something along the lines of:

“What, are you nuts? I love this stuff! I’d make it year-round, if possible. I’ll never stop.”

What’s it all about
The mixed messages were beginning to confuse me. It has become very clear that making maple syrup is a ton of hard work. And, for smalltime producers, the expense of making this sweet treat far outweighs the cost of picking up a few quarts at a local shop. Yet, veteran “backyard producers” love this pastime like children cherish a favorite teddy bear.

After weighing these seemingly contradictory factors, I was not discouraged. In fact, I wanted to get our “maple operation” underway as quickly as possible.

Of course, first I have to finish scrounging around for a “cheap” pan for the boiling process. Good evaporators cost a ton. By the time I finish this research, I’m hoping the weather will have ticked up a few degrees. I’m not looking forward to endless hours tending the fire in this type of weather.
Or, maybe I am — and I just don’t know it yet.
— Brian Sweeney