Learning that my sister and her husband were making maple syrup a few weeks ago brought back a flood of childhood memories. I could not believe it when she told me her children and grandchildren prefer maple-flavored corn syrup over the real deal. Grandpa and Grandma Allen, Uncle Henry, Uncle Rollin and my own dear dad would literally roll over in their graves if they knew any of their descendants turned up their noses at a spoonful of the warm brandy-colored delicacy that I enjoyed sampling in the sugarshed where the Allens made maple syrup every spring.
For me maple syrup is much more than a sweet liquid over fluffy pancakes. Maple syrup time meant the last days of winter and the harbinger of spring. I remember going with my dad and uncles to gather buckets of sap to be boiled down to syrup. The earth was too soft for tractor wheels, so it took a team of horses to maneuver through the woods pulling a big sled equipped with a huge galvanized tub in which to deposit sap. Along with my siblings and cousins, I would leap off the sled and run from tree to tree collecting buckets and pouring the contents into the tub.
Back in the sugar shed it seemed like it took forever for the crystal clear liquid to cook down to the perfect golden consistency to be bottled. I remember boiling eggs in the sap while we waited. Best boiled eggs I ever tasted.
End of winter to beginning of spring also meant the annual pancake supper at the Hubbardston Methodist church. I don’t think we’d ever heard of maple-flavored corn syrup back then, and even if we had, nobody within a country mile would dare show up with a bottle of it. Pancakes with maple syrup and salty link sausages. I don’t recall what else was on the menu, and I don’t remember who sponsored the supper, but likely it was the Women’s Society. I remember the husbands were in the kitchen flipping pancakes.
At Grandma Allen’s house maple syrup time meant maple sugar candy, which involved a lot more boiling and waiting until the syrup reached the candy stage. Grandma would pass around fruit bowls with a couple of tablespoons of the cooked syrup and we’d start stirring, and stirring, and stirring–until the dark brown syrup turned the color of sand on the shores of Lake Michigan and solidified enough to pour into molds. But we kids didn’t bother with molds. We ate maple sugar candy by the spoonful.
If I recall correctly, Grandpa Allen used to take maple syrup and maple candy to the Ionia Free Fair and sometimes the Michigan State Fair. Most of his display was dedicated to honey, a flavor(?) I’ll save for another month.