Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alison Anderson: For the Love of Maple

Maple syrup is nostalgia in a bottle for food lovers and maple syrup makers alike. Alison Anderson, co-author of How to Make Maple Syrup, writes about the work and rewards of sugaring season from a producer’s perspective.

Photo © Jared C. Benedict
Valentine’s Day has been forgotten, the remaining remnants shuffled to the discount aisle of the dollar store. But for syrup makers, romance is just beginning to blossom. There’s something magical that happens in late February or early March across syrup-making country. To pinpoint the feeling is almost impossible because it’s different for each individual, but it is there, a buzzing current just under the surface, ready to interrupt everyday life without warning. Maybe it’s merely the sap, pushing to burst forth from the mighty maple, but it feels like giddy nervousness that comes with the arrival of something long awaited.

For my husband and me, syrup season often means stress. In addition to managing woods where sap is collected from almost 5,000 maple trees, we own a maple syrup supply business. We sell equipment and supplies to syrup makers online and in our retail store. Spring is the most exhausting time of the year. But that stress and fatigue are always, always, trounced by that happy anticipation as the sap begins to flow.

We are delighted when we are able to re-acquaint ourselves with long-time patrons, whom we see only once or twice a year. Over time, these patrons have become friends, and we are thankful that syrup season brings us together. While helping customers, we overhear conjecture — syrup makers trying impossibly to predict the season to come. Customers, once unknown to each other, compare and contrast new equipment and procedures. Every other person that comes into the store needs an opinion or an idea, and they can find one, as most people in the store have one to offer. Customers become experts, conversations turn into friendships.

Out in the woods, across syrup country, other traditions are being kept. Tapping parties are announced and groups gather at a particular time to tap all of the trees in a wood. Many hands make light work and are often rewarded with a warm meal. As fresh syrup is made, Sugar on Snow is a favorite way to celebrate the harvest. Hot syrup is poured on cold snow and forms taffy. While this is a favorite with children, we’ve never known an adult to turn down a taste! We like to bring a bucket of vanilla ice cream to the syrup house. There is nothing better than a fresh maple syrup sundae.

Tradition, nostalgia, romance: whatever you want to call it, however you celebrate it, syrup season is a very special time of year for maple syrup makers and maple syrup consumers alike. And what’s more, you are able to catch a glimpse of that feeling throughout the year each time you have a taste of your hard labor’s sweet reward: pure maple syrup!

Alison Anderson is a writer, mostly of children’s and young adult fiction. When she’s not writing, Alison works at Anderson’s Maple Syrup, Inc. Together, Steven and Alison live on their sugarbush near Cumberland, Wisconsin, with their two children who want to be syrup makers when they grow up!

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