A few days ago, we received an email through our website from Greer and Rick, a local couple who happen to be our neighbors—they live just a few minutes down the road from our land. They kindly invited to watch their maple sugaring operation, "Maple Hill Maple," in action. Eager to meet our neighbors and experience the seasonal New England art of sugaring, we said yes, of course!
The day we met, we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of chatting by their fireplace, sipping tea and munching on homemade chocolate chip walnut bars. We talked about our homesteading project, and our bike tour, and listened with interest as Rick told us about how he moved to Vermont in the seventies and built his own home and sap-house, inspired by none other than the Nearings and their guide to maple sugaring.
It was a lovely visit, but unfortunately, the maple sugaring turned out to be a bust—it was too cold. They'd have to collect more sap during warmer days, before devoting a few hours to a boiling session.
This evening, Greer calls with exciting news: they're boiling tonight, and we're invited! Soon, we're headed down the road to Maple Hill Maple, and are greeted with a truly fantastical sight. The sap house looks magical: golden sparks fly from the chimney across the night sky like shooting stars, while billows of white steam emanate from the doors and windows.
Stepping inside, we're hit with waves of maple-scented steam. It's a Willy Wonka-style hammam in here, smelling simultaneously of woodsmoke and a pancake breakfast. When the mist clears, Greer and Rick greet us with hugs. We're given small dixie cups of sticky, hot maple syrup to sip on, and then the tour begins.
The sugaring operation starts with Rick, tending to a roaring fire:
The woodstove at the heart of his evaporator is responsible for boiling hundreds of gallons of maple sap in giant vats. When the sap reaches a certain temperature (carefully monitored by Rick), it is officially deemed "maple syrup", and is automatically emptied into a metal bucket. Rick then takes the bucket of syrup across the room and pours it into a filtration system.
When the syrup has made its way through the pipes and filters, Greer dispenses it into plastic jugs. She sets these on their sides until the lids seal properly. When cool, the syrup is ready to be sold.
During lulls in the activity, Rick and Greer patiently answer all of our many questions about maple trees and sap and grades of syrup. Rick even mentions a story that sounds too outlandish to be true: last year there was an honest-to-god maple syrup heist, during which over thirty million dollars worth (about 15,000 barrels) of maple syrup was stolen from Quebec's reserves. WTF!?
After staring into the steamy depths of the evaporator for an hour or so, it's time for us to hit the road. We thank our kind neighbors, sip the last of our cups of maple syrup, and head out, stopping once more to admire the steaming, glittery sap house. As we walk back to our truck, we're both excited about starting our own (much smaller) sugaring operation in a few years!
Thank you for including us in your maple sugaring, Greer and Rick!