Friday 24 February 2012

Sugaring time

At about this time of year
I am seized with an acute but futile longing
to start sugarin'.
See here and here.
I have known exactly what to do
since 1966 when I first read Pa's instructions
in Little House in the Big Woods.*

You need wooden buckets and little troughs
 made from cedar and white ash
'for those woods won't give a bad taste to the maple syrup.'
To make the troughs, split out little sticks as long as your hand
 and as big as your two fingers.
Near the end cut the stick half through, 
and split one half off.
Then you'll have a flat stick, with a square piece at one end. 
Drill a hole with a bit lengthwise through the square part, 
then whittle the wood until it is only a thin shell round the hole.
Hollow out the flat part until it is a little trough.

You make dozens of these, and ten new buckets,
then you'll have them all ready 
for when the first warm weather comes 
and the sap begins to move in the trees.

Go into the maple woods and bore a hole in each tree,
hammer the the round end of the little trough into the hole,
and set a cedar bucket on the ground under the flat end.
Every day you empty the sap from the buckets into the barrel.

Empty the sap into the iron kettle.
Light a big bonfire underneath it and boil the sap.
Skim the sap with a big long-handled wooden ladle
made of basswood. 
Lift and cool the sap in the ladle if it gets too hot.

The instant the sap is graining, rake the fire 
out from beneath the kettle
and as fast as you can ladle the thick syrup
into the milk pans where it will turn to cakes
of hard brown maple sugar.

The best bit comes in the next chapter, 
when you go to the dance at Grandpa's and you 
pour hot syrup onto plates of snow and eat it
as it cools into soft candy.

'They could eat all they wanted,
for maple sugar never hurt anybody.'

* by Laura Ingalls Wilder


  1. I loved that bit too. It was much reread, on a par with the description of the box of goodies Katy and Clover got sent from home in "What Katy Did at School".

  2. Oh YES! I have always longed to make syrup shapes on the snow in the pan like that... Maple Syrup is prohibitively exensive here in France. We keep it for the adults only, as the boys seem just as happy with Golden Syrup (also an import, but cheaper).

  3. What folks'll do for a bit of sweetness, eh?

  4. When I did my MA in Children's Literature I studied American Children's Writers, just so I could re read Laura (and Katy, Jo and Anne - I know she was Canadian, but she featured on the course) It was heavenly, and this was one of my favourite parts of Little House in the Big Wood. (Like Mise I also loved the box of goodies.)
    Thanks for sharing it, and it's lovely to see the Maple Syrup being gathered. I think more Pancakes are called for this weekend!

  5. You make me want to read those books again!

  6. And I, from the same source and cause, have a unrequited desire to build a log cabin. To Pa's instructions.

  7. Those books, I found upon rereading them to my children, are really nothing but instruction manuals for all kinds of amazing thing. But I have especially always wanted to make maple syrup -- and especially to drizzle the hot syrup on cold snow. This figures hugely into my plans to retire to a cabin in Maine. I'll let you know when -- you can come visit.

  8. And to think I actually have a friend who has done the magical maple syrup on snow thing, every year, as she was growing up in Canada. She sent me the most colossal flagon of maple syrup recently too; maybe if it snows again this year, I could heat some up, and.....

  9. I blame Laura for my love of winter, but I'd forgotten I knew how to harvest my own maple syrup! Maple syrup on snow though, that I hadn't forgotten!

  10. After Little House in the Big Woods I could NOT, for the life of me figure out why they would want to move away. I loved the series even in spite of my frustration with Pa's desire for more space.

    Maple syrup remains a favourite of mine. There is nothing better than pancakes with sauteed apples and cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup...yummy!