Living Off the Land


Tapped the tree, cooked the sap, made breakfast.

We’ve got four mature maple trees on our property and I tapped two of them this year.  The time to tap is when the nights are below freezing and the days warm up enough to get the sap flowing. On a good day, I get a half-gallon of sap from each tree. On a frozen day, nothing.

Tapping a tree is the easy part. Drill a hole, stick in a tap, and attach a hose and a collection vessel. It’s the cooking part that’s more arduous. I’ve set up an electric burner outdoors. Unless you have a sugar shack (maybe next year?) you have to boil the sap outdoors because it gives off clouds of steam that will create a sticky residue on the ceiling and other surfaces in your kitchen. I turn the burner on high and get the sap boiling, adding more in increments as it cooks down.

You don’t have to watch the pot every minute, which is fortunate because it takes about four hours to boil a couple of gallons of sap. I set up the burner and return to my desk and check on its progress every so often. Unless I forget, like when I got absorbed in writing and by the time I checked my pan there was nothing but a burnt crust on the bottom. I learned to set a timer for twenty-minute intervals. I skim the foam, add more sap, adjust the heat level, and set the timer again.

Cook. Cook. Cook. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot more sap than I’ll collect from my two trees and endless hours of cooking time for a gentleman farmer. So far I’ve gotten about sixteen ounces of syrup. One batch I cooked a bit too long and ended up with maple candy. Another batch came out thin. It’s a delicate timing issue. You want the sap to reach 217 degrees, which is just right for syrup and just below where crystallization starts.

We had a pancake breakfast yesterday morning to sample the goods. The syrup was light-colored, sweet, with a mellow maple flavor. This week I’ll make waffles. Ah, the delicious satisfaction of living off the land.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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