Maple Syrup

Balmy Days

Last week’s cold snap was forecast to end on Monday, maybe, but it didn’t happen. Tuesday, maybe, was a possibility but became a definite not. On Wednesday, however, the temperature climbed enough for the sap to run again, the tank filled, and the arch was fired up one more time at Bobo’s (boil #8).

Steam and Snowflakes

The stuff in the front pan, left behind from the last batch to “sweeten” the next, had frozen to slush due to its high sugar content, but the weaker stuff in the back pan was decidedly more solid and, according to the forecast, it’s going to happen again.

Not Exactly Sugaring Weather

Despite the snow and sleet, sap ran into the night and, in order to leave behind as little as possible to freeze, the fire in the arch was stoked until almost midnight. The shed has a lot of wood left in it, but prodigious quantities have already been burned. Opening the doors to feed the fire, especially when they are pulsating like angry cuttlefish, can be like flying into the sun, and closing them quickly — before one’s clothes burst into flames — can become a matter of some importance. Continue reading

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Steamy Video

The recent record-setting warm spell could not possibly last. It is March and this is Vermont, after all. Sap was still trickling down the hill as last evening’s boil ended at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar and, while the collection tank didn’t fill all the way, it had enough sap in it this morning to justify firing up the arch again.

Another justification for processing a not full tank is the fact that temperatures are predicted to drop to well below 0°F over the next few days. Anyone who has ever dealt with a thousand gallons of solidly frozen sap knows how that can slow down an operation. Everyone else can probably imagine.

As dependent on weather as sap runs are, boiling that sap into syrup can be affected, too. Barometric pressure has an effect on the boiling point of liquids and wind gusts to 50 mph have a strange way of preventing steam from leaving the building. Even with doors open.

Fogged-In

Fogged-In

It didn’t help that the outside air that did get in was cold and getting colder, and that it, too, turned to fog when it met the warm air rising from the arch.

Sitting down once in a while is allowed.

Sitting down once in a while is allowed.

The edge of a cold metal barrel is not really a comfortable seat but it will do. Lest readers get the impression I sit a lot, I don’t. Sometimes I stand and stare at the ceiling.

Looking up, into the steam coming down.

Looking up, at the steam coming down.

Mostly, my role in Bobo’s sugarhouse is stoking the fire and drinking beer acting as a role model for children. Mostly, it’s stoking the fire.

Heat

Heat

The sap tank is empty, the arch is quiet and the plumbing is drained. There won’t be another run of sweet sap until this bitter cold blast has moved through, maybe by Monday they say. It was freaky foggy in the sugarhouse today, but not constantly. The fog came and went, as you will see below.

The four foggy photos above are part of a series, a series of 299 images which, when stitched together, form a time-lapse, boiling down two and half hours to thirty seconds. The big hairy guy even does a little dance.

 

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A Big Hot Metal Box

Snowshoes were appropriate footwear on Bobo’s Mountain last Tuesday as the last taps went in, racing against a warm-up that promised a run of sap (see “Something is Running and It’s not Me“). The race was won, the sap was caught, and by Friday children were seen running barefoot.

Three feet of snow disappeared. Some simply sublimated but most of it melted, running noisily down the hill as runnels met rivulets and rills became brooks, braiding their way toward the river.

Melt-Down

Melt-Down

It turns out that this year’s first boil took place on the same date as last year’s but whether or not that means anything is still open to conjecture. By the time this first run was over, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 gallons of sap had been processed. Continue reading

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Something is Running and It’s not Me

Long-term weather forecasts can be useful but they are subject to change and not always accurate. A predicted period of snow showers followed by a slight warm-up can become 10 days of ice, snow and arctic winds followed by a drastic melt-down and, before you know it, the scramble is on. In this case, the scramble is up and down and across the slopes of Bobo’s Mountain, driving taps into every available maple tree before the sap starts running in earnest.

Making Tracks

Making Tracks

By mid-afternoon, sap was dripping from freshly drilled holes before spiles could be driven and drop lines hooked up. Licking a tree is not something normally done in polite company, but up on the hill, where nobody can see, why not? Faintly sweet and tasting of forest, those first drips are an elixir, pushing aside visions of snow drifts and cold, replacing them with thoughts of mud, hot fires and steam.

Across the Brook

Across the Brook

With all hands on deck, the last tap went in yesterday afternoon and the collection tank began to fill. Some of those hands, though, are a little worse for the wear, scraped by rough bark and sliced by sharp bits, all in pursuit of syrup.

Professional Hand Models, Bobo's Mountain Style

Professional Hand Models, Bobo’s Mountain Style

Today, the arch will be fired up to boil the first run of sap on Bobo’s Mountain, giving sore muscles and busted knuckles a break and allowing those hands to experience burns and scalds instead.

Bring on the mud!

 

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Frog Water

Phrenology is the study of bumps on a person’s skull to determine certain aspects of the individual’s personality and character.

Phenology is the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

The end of sugaring tends to come at about the same time amphibians thaw out and get active, so some sugar-makers call their final batches of syrup “frog water.” Appropriately, a small chorus of wood frogs was sounding off in the puddles as the fire was lit for an April Fools’ Day boil at Bobo’s last Friday afternoon.

April Showers

April Showers

Continue reading

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Sugarhouse Saturday Night

Because the photo in the header of this post is severely cropped, the buffet table in Bobo’s sugarhouse can not be seen. The al fresco dining was featured two weeks ago in “Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch” but they’ve been boiling like mad over there ever since and it should go without saying that the buffet table is stocked with an array of items that can be eaten by hand, on the fly. Pretty much everything available is made even more delicious by a drizzling (or dunking) of warm syrup but one wonders sometimes what else could be done with all that amber, sugary goodness.

New York City found out this week when Bobo’s Mountain Sugar was featured in the menu of the Maple Run, a dinner at the James Beard House, on West 12th Street. Not only do I expect to find Maple-Brined Pork Loin with Grits, Carrots, Almonds, and Maple–Mustard Jus  followed by Waffle Baba with Maple–Bourbon Syrup, Vanilla–Bourbon Ice Cream, Brown Butter, and Maple Meringue served up on the old wire spool next year, I expect to see Hot Dogs Boiled in a Sap Pan and Virginia Peach Moonshine with Vermont Maple Cocktails on the menus of fine restaurants everywhere. Continue reading

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Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

Pickles, Cough Drops and a Bottle of Scotch

A good run of sap has kept syrup makers busy and nice weather this weekend inspired quite a few folks to brave the mud for visits to their favorite sugar houses. From what I hear, the joint was jumpin’ on Friday and Saturday evenings at Bobo’s. By Sunday afternoon, when I got there to help finish off yet another boil, the place was pretty well deserted.

New Sap Coming In

New Sap Coming In

Even without an enthusiastic crowd looking on, the fire roared and sap turned to syrup. It wasn’t the sunniest of late winter days but the temperature was mild enough to cook outside, taking advantage of the well-apportioned outdoor grilling area. Continue reading

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Here Comes Sugar Bob!

Here Comes Sugar Bob!

Here Comes Sugar Bob!

And there goes Sugar Bob, heading home for a long boil.

Heading Home for a Long Boil

Heading Home for a Long Boil

Sugar Bob makes maple syrup, gathering sap from stands he’s tapped all over the freakin’ place. You can hear his rig coming from a long way off, especially when he’s motoring through the mud with a load on. That sap is headed for a tank above the cabana, to be boiled down into syrup as only Sugar Bob can make it. I wouldn’t pour it on my pancakes, but Sugar Bob’s Finest Kind Smoked Maple Syrup is one of the greatest Secret Ingredients yet devised by Man.

Sugar makers don’t get to see each other much at times like this so Sugar Bob passed along his respects to the good folks at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar and I was happy to carry his message to the other side of the valley this afternoon. Continue reading

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Made in Vermont Hybrid Vehicle

A Hybrid of What, We Don't Know, But It's Got a Load On.

A Hybrid of What, We Don’t Know, But It’s Got a Load On.

Part Chevy, part who knows what, that’s a custom rig right there, sitting on my ice-coated driveway toward the end of a winter that made me wonder why I bothered with marker stakes. There may well be pieces of more than two vehicles involved, pieced together with ingenuity, baling wire and spot welds, and when it’s not wearing a plow on its nose it’s perfect for hauling and spreading sand (or, in this case, 1/4″ chipped stone). It has also been spotted in the village, in front of the pre-school, dropping off kiddos.

The weather has been a bit of a hybrid, itself, these last few weeks. Booger-freezing cold one day, rainy and almost warm the next, there have been pieces of at least two seasons involved and their bastard child is ice.

Coated

Coated

Continue reading

Categories: Humor, Maple Syrup, nature, Rural Life, Vermont, Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fired Up

To mere puny humans, the weather of late has made no sense. One Sunday morning you’re sitting on a bucket down-cellar, blasting hot air on a block wall to thaw the pipe from the well, which froze because it was twenty-frickin’ below zero outside, and the next there are robins in puddles in the dooryard.

The maple trees, however, seem to be fine with things as they are and the first run of sap in this neck of the woods has dribbled forth.

First Steam, 2016

First Steam, 2016

With the last of more than 2,000 trees tapped just the other day, the collection tank filled and today the arch was fired up for the first boil of the season at Bobo’s Mountain Sugar.

IMG_4633

A February Boil

When cold sap first warms enough to give off steam, the reaction to that smell is primal, like to the call of a loon or peepers on a warm May night. Intimately familiar in a distant, foggy way. Continue reading

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