By Stephen King
And… It’s beginning to look a lot like… Christmas? Yup, this past Sunday, woke up and the place was looking more like the end of December than the end of March. But, this is the EUP. And, we all live here because… We don’t have enough money for that vacation in Florida.
Or, like me, we just love our home in the EUP. Even if it does snow a bit at times when it’s not supposed to. But, let’s just pass this off as Mother Nature’s April Fool’s Day humor. Either way, we are hoping all this white stuff will end soon.
But, even with the place still looking a bit on the snowy side. Things are looking like spring. More or less. Now, as I mentioned, we are in a bit of transition. The winter stuff is pretty much done. And, if it ever quits snowing, the spring stuff will start.
Now, on the spring stuff, last week I talked a bit about harvesting maple syrup to make those pancakes so much better. And, if you recall, in a bit of a recap, I noted that you can poke holes in trees on Private Land, with the Land Owners permission. Then, on Federal Land, they have a permit. Call the local Ranger Station at (906) 643-7900. You might get a recording. But, leave a message and they are supposed to get back with you. The Covid stuff. Then, on State Land, just say, “No.” Or, rather, the State just says no tapping their trees. Period.
OK, you have found a tree or three. And, you have figured out which one gives out the syrup and which one gives out paint thinner. So, you’ve got that bit down.
Now, how to get the sap out of the tree: Story Time: Quite a few years ago, I was at a Maple Syrup Days thing at the Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The nice lady there talked about the history of tree tapping.
On this, being Native, I had heard this story before. But, she told it way better than I had ever heard it told before. She recited about how, way back before the Europeans came over, the local Natives, my ancestors, the Anishinaabi, had figured out how to tap trees.
She told about how this one guy was out hunting. And, things were not going his way. So, he decided to rest a bit. (I can relate to this part. Been there, done this.) And, he stuck his ax in a tree and laid back to take a nap.
Now, while he was resting (Or, thinking about how to outsmart his quarry. Always my story) the sap was leaking out of the tree. Right down the handle of his ax and into his basket.
Then, when he woke up, he was a bit thirsty. And, wonder of wonders, the Creator had filled his basket with water. With a nod of thanks to the Creator, he took a sip. And, it tasted pretty good. So, he took it home.
Now, the wife was not happy about him coming home without supper. But, when he let her taste the water, she was OK with this. And, she kept the water in the basket.
Next day, the guy goes out, fishing I think, and catches lunch. When he brought it back home, his wife used the water from the tree to cook the fish. And, they realized that this made the fish taste wonderful.
So, they decided to go back and get more. Which they did. Then, they decided to boil down the sap, to make it easier to store. Which they did. And, maple syrup gathering was born. Nowadays, my fellow Anishinaabi call this time of year, “Iskigamizigi giizis”, which translate rather loosely to “Maple Syrup Gathering Month.
Way back when, my ancestors used hollowed out wooden sticks to tap the trees. These have now been replaced by metal or plastic ones. Back then, they used baskets. Today, most people use plastic buckets. Some use 5 gallon. Some prefer 2 gallon. Kind of depends on how strong you are and how far you are carrying the sweet water.
Back then, and this was really work, they used hot stones from the fire to boil down the sap. At a ratio of about 40-1, or, about a pint for every 5 gallons of sap, that meant a whole lot of hot rocks. And, a very slow and labor intensive process.
Today, most people use propane. But, some still prefer a wood fire. However, one thing still remains true. Do not boil the sap in the wigwam. Just a really bad idea.
Like, remember, the last time you made soup. And, the windows of the house all got steamed up. That was from just a couple cups of water, maybe. From making the soup. Think about 5 gallons of water. Turned to steam. All over your house. Not a good idea.
Boil the sap in an old shed. Garage, maybe. Any place where the steam can escape without steam cleaning things you don’t want steam cleaned.
Also, on the boiling, way back when, they just knew when it was done. Today, they have hydrometers that will tell you that. Basically, how thick it is. But, today, most of the sap boilers I know still just eyeball it. They know exactly how they want it to look and taste.
Then, way back when, not sure how they stored it. But, they did. Probably in water tight baskets. Today, we have bottles and jars and all sorts of things. Just seal it tight, and store in a cool dry, light free area.
Also, from what I gather, the sap is still running. But, we are starting to get to the end of it. On this, I asked a friend, Kevin Dennis, about how to tell when the sap is no longer good. He told me, “First, it will be darker. It will look kind of muddy. Good sap is pretty clean. Then, if it smells like old socks when you try to boil it, it isn’t any good.”
Works for me. I’m not putting anything that smells like old socks on my pancakes. But, I do love the taste of maple syrup, on pancakes, next to an egg or two, with a side order of venison steaks… Wow. My mouth is watering just thinking about that.
Anyway, about out of time for this week. But, one last thing. April 1st is upon us. And, no fooling, you need to get that new fishing license. Also, April 1st used to be the Traditional Early Opener for Trout Season. More on that next week.
But, until then, grab a kid, get off that couch, and get outdoors this week in the EUP.