I remember that I needed a spout to insert into the tree to drain the sugar water out, and I didn’t want to use metal or plastic pipe for a spout (which undoubtedly would have been the most convenient). No way, I was doing this the old fashioned way and I wanted a wooden spout. I hunted the woods for hours looking for a straight stick about an inch wide, then using my pocket knife I split it open. I cleaned out the doty center of the stick and I had two little troughs with which to siphon away the sugar water from the tree. I did try my hand at hollowing out a whole stick but it was just too time consuming, so my idea worked well enough.
I then took Dad’s wood bore and after scouting out the biggest sugar maple trees behind our house on the hillside, I took boring holes into the trees. I then inserted my little wooden “pipe troughs” into the holes, and had then dripping down into my catchment containers. After waiting a few minutes, I saw the first few droplets of sugar water trying to run down into my waiting mason jar. (Yes, mason jar…this was a small time operation!). I soon learned through trial and error that if I slanted my bored hole slightly upward, the sap flowed out a little better. Also, I found that a little spot of chewing gum dammed up the excess sugar water and made the sap flow out my troughs a little better, as well as securing my troughs in the hole. I know I must have drilled 20 or so trees, and I had jars, cans, cups, buckets and pretty much anything else that would catch sugar water placed under nearly every maple tree on the hillside. This was about mid-morning, and as the day progressed and it got a little warmer, the sap started running faster. Some of them ran like a slow running faucet. Since my catchment containers were rather small, I nearly ran myself to death emptying them into my larger 5 gallon bucket which sat at the bottom of the hill. Eventually, I focused on the larger and more productive trees and abandoned operations at the small trees. After a few hours, my 5 gallon bucket was full of sweet tasting maple sap. It looked like water, had the consistency of water, but it had a slightly sweet taste. After getting what I believed would be aplenty maple sugar water, I gathered up my jars, cans, cups, etc. and placed a piece of clay mud into the bored holes of the tree to keep out moisture so as to prevent rot.
An old drawing of a maple sugar camp.So with my 5-gallon bucket of maple sugar water in hand, I talked Mom into allowing me the use of her kitchen to boil down my syrup. She told me I could but that if I made a mess, I’d have to clean it up. So, using her big stockpot, I filled it about ¾ full with sugar water and started heating it. Soon it was at a boil, and I kept adding more sugar water to the pot as it evaporated away. It took several hours of this, but eventually the boiling liquid started turning the lightest shade of brown, and I just knew that soon I’d have syrup. I couldn’t help but sample my work frequently and it was starting to get slightly sweeter, but still nowhere near syrup. So my pot kept boiling and boiling, and it was clear that I’d get no more than a quart of syrup out of this, but that was still fine. Well, about the time my pot had about a quart of liquid in it, I tasted it again…nope, still very watery…so I had no choice but to keep boiling. Everyone had told me that it took a lot of sugar water to make syrup but I figured I had enough. I had thought about going back out to the trees to get more sap, but Mom told me that I’d better wait and see if my experiment worked before I went and made more work for myself. I’m sure it was more like she wanted me out of the kitchen since I’d been there for hours and hours. So I acquiesced and kept on a-boilin’!
It soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to have much maple syrup at all when I got it boiled down. As it was now, I had less than a cup full in the pot and it was still rather watery. I became resolved right then to continue and get whatever syrup I could out of this…no matter how little… since I had spent all day at it. When the liquid had nearly all boiled away, I tasted my treasured substance, and lo and behold, it was just right! I had made maple syrup! However, when I measured it out, I had just over 3 Tablespoons of it (out of 5 gallon of maple sugar water). Everyone got a good laugh over that, but let me tell you, that was good maple syrup. I shared it with everyone there, and we all got a taste, and everyone agreed that it was really good.
And that's when the real fun started. Mom came out to the kitchen and told me to clean up my mess. I’d been really careful not to make too much of one since I knew I’d be the one to have to clean it. I washed the stockpot, and wiped off the stove and table, took my bucket outside, and thought I had it all done, then Mom discovered something. She looked around and had noticed that there was a sticky film all over the walls and ceiling, over the cabinets and refrigerator, over the countertops and the ceiling fan, even on the window panes! It seems that while my maple sugar water was evaporating, the steam had miniscule amounts of sugar in it, and it had coated everything in the kitchen. Hot, soapy water was the only thing that would cut the stickiness, and Mom said we had to clean the whole kitchen (yes, she helped!). She really didn’t say too much to me, probably because if she started she wouldn’t have been able to stop! It was way up into the night before we got the remnants of my first and only ill-fated attempt at making my own maple syrup. So for the love of God and all that is Holy, if you decide to make your own homemade maple syrup, take my advice and do it someplace other than your mother’s kitchen. I old guess the old timers had a reason for making sugar camps after all!