I see Sugar Bob at the hardware store now and then and I see him and Ann at Boxing Day parties but usually that’s about it. This time of year, though, I see him almost every day (or at least hear him) as he drags his trailer with a tank on it through the mud on our road, collecting sap from scattered stands of maples he’s tapped. Sugar Bob and his crew are acutely aware of the relationship between sugaring and Mud Season. “If the roads are good, you are not making sugar,” he says.
Not everyone has a sugarbush on a hillside, with sap collecting right there at the sugar house like Skye and Tina on Bobo’s Mountain. Enterprising, hard-working sugar makers like Sugar Bob tap trees where they can, spending a good part of the day driving to collection points and hauling the sap back home. The rest of the day and most of the night are spent boiling it down before the next batch comes rolling in.
Sugar Bob makes his syrup somewhere in this vicinity, but in the other direction:
With daytime temperatures nudging above freezing and nights dropping below, the roads were falling apart and the sap was running, so — after finagling an invite when he stopped by Bobo’s one afternoon — it seemed as good a time as any to motor through six miles of mud a couple of weeks ago and pay a visit to Sugar Bob.
Ask any reasonable person if there is a reason for the white bucket on the roof and they will tell you there is. Sugar Bob is no exception. Ask him to tell you about his sugar house and one of the first things he will point out is that it is not so much a sugar house as it is a sugar cabana.
Tea, made with boiling sap, flowed in both “fortified” or “non-fortified” versions and, after a song, small cups of “fortified” syrup were hoisted to celebrate the day’s boil. A handy barber’s chair offered a comfortable seat for those who might find themselves overly fortified.
Unfortunately, because my visit was during the day, I missed the excitement of the night life at Sugar Bob’s but it’s probably just as well that the disco ball comes down in the morning or I might have hit my head.
Sugar Bob can make syrup with the best of them, without vacuum collection, reverse osmosis or a big Steam-Away unit, and he sells a lot of what he makes at the local farmer’s market. What really separates Sugar Bob from the rest of the pack, though, (aside from his big, glittery ball) is the way he puts Yankee ingenuity to work, embracing “Venturi injection principles” to create something really special.
Sugar Bob infuses syrup with smoke.
I’m not a foodie but I sure like to eat, and it is no secret that I love maple syrup. I’m also a big fan of smoke flavors but Sugar Bob is not kidding when he tells you that Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is probably not for your pancakes. It is, however, pretty amazing as an ingredient, especially combined with savory flavors. The blend of sweet and smoky adds a whole new dimension to sauces, glazes, marinades, and even whisky.
Someone with a more advanced food vocabulary or repertoire of recipes could describe Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind better than I and really do it justice as the versatile ingredient it is. I have no doubt there is some fancy-pants chef out there using it to create some fancy-pants “experience” involving tiny portions to make foodies swoon, but that’s not the type of cooking that takes place in my kitchen so we’ll leave that stuff to the experts and stay close to home.
Snuck into a batch of beans, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind adds sweet smokiness that comes through in waves without swamping other flavors. Drizzled over chicken in the oven, it brings the taste of a summer cook-out indoors but without the mess and, as the highest compliment I can pay, Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is the secret ingredient in Quill Gordon’s Super Top Secret Recipe Hot Wings and we can’t wait to try it in barbecue sauce once grilling season gets here.
Learn more about Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind by visiting their web site or check it out on facebook. Order yourself a bottle or two online. It’s a heck of a lot easier than driving through six miles of mud.
Thank you, Rob, Ann, Carl, Harry and everyone else who was at the cabana the day I visited. I had a great time!