When the lion of winter lashes out like it’s wounded, roaring with cold, and the lamb of spring kicks up wet showers, those who live where the two meet get pelted with ice balls. Back and forth it goes every March, and we know spring will eventually prevail, but so far this year, March belongs to winter.
When snow is followed by rain and the rain is followed by sub-zero cold, an icy crust develops. When that cold is followed by more snow and more rain, the best term to describe conditions is “glaciated”. We are encased in ice.
Maple sap runs best when daytime temperatures rise above freezing and nighttime temperatures fall well below. Day and night, we’ve spent a lot of time below freezing lately, and the sap has barely crawled, let alone run. Over on Bobo’s Mountain, a couple of relatively mild days resulted in a few hundred gallons of sap making their way to the bulk tank, where they froze overnight into a sweet, solid block. My friend Tina describes the situation in her post titled, “Ice Out”. (Poke around bobosmountainsugar.com while you’re there, get to know the place and the people involved and order yourself a big old jug of sweet, maple goodness.)
With nothing but record cold in the short-term forecast, Skye used a propane heater to melt the sap in the tank and on Saturday evening the first boil of 2014 commenced.
Squalls of sleet and snow blew through and wind-shredded clouds scudded past in the moonlight as steam billowed through the open vents in the roof.
Stoked every few minutes, the fire in the arch roared and the sap in the pan came to a boil. Thick leather gloves gave off wisps of smoke against the hot cast iron doors, the temperature in the pan climbed to 219F (103.8C), and then the science kicked in.
Scalding hot, sweet and sticky, it’s not syrup until its density is just so. Slow dribbles were drawn and checked until finally, with sleet bouncing off the window panes, a smile appeared and a cheer went up. The first syrup of the season was ready!
Nowhere near a full batch, the point of this boil was to get the tanks emptied before this week’s deep freeze set in. Milder weather by the weekend should bring another run of sap and, when it comes, Skye and Tina will be ready to fire things up in earnest so everyone can celebrate spring with “A Taste of Tree”.
(Astute readers of this blog may recognize that jar as having once held weapons-grade head cement thinner for tying flies. The “B” on the lid indicates it was blackberry flavored, in case of emergency thirst, and we have no problem re-using the jar for syrup due to the self-sterilizing properties of the previous contents.)
Opening Day is 40 days away …