(Since this is a pretty long story, I'm going to divide it up into a few posts. Stay tuned for the next one!)
A few years ago, we went to our first “Sugaring-Off party”. It was fun AND informational. We always get enough syrup to use as “house gifts” for our out of state friends. They all love it!
Anyway, we had never been to one of these, I thought there might be some of you out there in cyber-space that haven’t done this either. So, here’s the story of “Sugaring-Off” in the North Country.
We arrived at the “sugarin’ barn” that had steam and smoke POURING out of the metal stack at the top. If you didn’t know better, you’d think there was a fire burning out of control inside that fireplace. However, it was only steam, which is a by-product of the sugaring process, and smoke from the soft wood they use for firing up the burners under the syrup.
As we came in the little “ante-room” (I’m sure the farmer has another name for it…like “shed” or something equally original). There were pumps and tubes just everywhere, with the accompanying noises. This, we found out later on the tour, is where the syrup comes into the barn from the “sugarbush” (the stand of maples from which they take the syrup). They do not use buckets at this installation, as they tap about 8000 maple trees. That would be a bit of a job, wouldn’t you say? Anyway, there is a pump, which essentially vacuums the syrup into the barn. The maples are on a hill allowing gravity to play and important part in this whole process.
The next step was tasting the “Sugar on Snow”…a new experience for us both! They had a huge bucket of shaved ice, as nature was not being helpful. . It got up to 71 degrees the day before we went! Anyway, they had some maple syrup in a crock-pot that had been boiled down to a pretty thick consistency, just being kept warm. A spoonful of this thick syrup was ladled out on the snow in a very thin layer. It hardened immediately and we could just peel it off the snow and pop it into our mouths. Oh, my…ambrosia! It was the consistency of caramel with the flavor of rich maple syrup. Delicious and VERY sweet. They had a huge bowl of pickles made by the farm to which you could help your self. I had always wondered about the custom of serving pickles at a sugaring off party. Now I know why. The “Sugar on Snow” is SO rich and sweet, the pickle cuts through that sweetness allowing you to escape the incredibly sweet aftertaste you will be left with, sans pickle. I know, because on the way out, I stopped and popped a piece of maple sugar on snow into my mouth, not taking the pickle. I tasted that maple sugar all the way home (a 20 minute drive!) Donuts are also served. You can dip them in syrup or else there’s the Maple Spread, which is the consistency of Peanut Butter. A knife puts a big dollop on your donut, and your smile defines the moment.