Jan 14, 2013
A cloud of masonry dust rose where the French-Canadians were racing to finish what I’d heard was their sugar shed below the house. Since they’re at the farm mostly on weekends, it was now or never to find out if they’d be done in time for maple syrup season.
I found Luc, his bushy eyebrows flecked with dust, cutting the final cement tiles to cover the earthen floor.
Inside, the structure was charmingly over-built with steel framing sourced from Luc’s contracting business in Washington. I think I’d choose it over my basement in a tornado warning.
A small, commercial, wood-fired evaporator from Quebec stood in the middle.
Although Garrett County does have a substantial maple syrup industry, this is strictly family-use. Yet, to Canadians, it’s as serious as business: it’s part of their culture, Luc explains.
“The family comes for several days,” Luc says. “Everyone helps with the maple.”
His wife chimes in: “Crepes, with eggs and potatoes — that’s what we eat during the maple time.”
Besides syrup and maple candy, there is a toffee-like treat made by pouring highly evaporated, extra-thick syrup in a thin layer across the snow.
“Then you just roll it up on a stick,” she says
Last year’s test run — 200 gallons of sap from 50 trees cooked on a fire in a steel drum — yielded four gallons of syrup. Scaling up this year, some 150 maple trees will be tapped in February. That’s 500 gallons of sap carried by bucket to the little sugar house.
Day-times temperatures above freezing with nights below are essential, and Luc, too, has heard that maples are struggling in ever-warmer winters. Speaking of his native land, with the leaf on its flag, Luc forms a circle with his chest and arms, his fingertips feet from touching. “The maple used to grow big-around, but now they die.”
My county holds the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded south of the Mason-Dixon Line (-41 degrees). This Jan. 12, it’s +61. Pale light streamed in the unfinished doorway as we stared at the bare trees.
“The whole family will come,” they say again.
Biz Buzz Best Buy White — Vinterra 2011 Pinot Gris (Waipara Valley, New Zealand) is a refreshing break from the plethora of dull, vaguely sweet California Pinot Gris (or Grigio) or the tart, typical Italian efforts in this price range. More resembling the original item from Alsace, Vinterra’s has a sassy, succulent texture, just-right candied ginger, honeydew, and pear flavors, and a lovely melting finish. Hard-to-find value at $11.
Red — Vinha do Monte 2009 (Alentejano, Portugal) is another in the line of delicious rustic reds from the native, dark-fleshed Vinhao, this one from a big firm that is Portugal’s Gallo-equivalent. Don’t dismiss it: dry, perfectly balanced, with lip-smacking blackberry flavors, you cannot go wrong for winter-time stews or, for instance, pork roast with prune sauce. $9.
(Photo: Peach Basket online)