Being Catholic is a little like belonging to a fraternity. On Ash Wednesday, the Catholics are going around in public with big black smudges on their foreheads; now, who else can do a thing like that? And it’s a fraternity with no side, because anyone and everyone is welcome. Ashes and scapulars are like the club handshake. I really like it.
Yesterday was glorious, with a clear blue sky of the kind that seems to have extra depth, somehow, and afternoon temperatures in the fifties. The sickle bar mower is getting reassembled, and the flower beds around the house were raked and clipped and cleared. The boys brought down about forty gallons of sap, and we got about another gallon of syrup, making about four gallons all told.
Never boiled syrup? Spiles, the little taps you put in the trees, are cheap — about a dollar fifty each, I think — and you can use plastic milk jugs for sap buckets, by cutting a hole in the side of the jug just under the cap. A bucket of this kind is pretty safe from bugs getting in, and won’t collect rain, but has the disadvantage of holding only one gallon of sap, which means you’ll always find it running over when you come to empty it. We usually use food-grade two- or five-gallon buckets, collected from helpful restaurants in the area, and even these are sometimes running over, since we really can’t spare the time to collect sap more than once a day.
Long, long ago we boiled sap in the house, which meant that the indoor atmosphere was about as liquid as it could stick, and we used up a week’s worth of propane per gallon of syrup. Then S-2 built us a large firebox in the back of the house, next to the woodshed, of dry-laid cinder block lined with firebrick, and we bought two large stainless steel pans, about eighteen by twentyeight by eight inches, which fit neatly over the firebox. The pans belonged, before we purchased them, to an amateur mechanic who used them for changing the oil in the succession of vehicles he disembowelled in his garage, but we cleaned them carefully, and they might have been designed especially for sap pans. Add sap, kindle fire, and keep a close eye, because as the sugar becomes concentrated, the boiling point goes up,and by the time your syrup is almost ready, it is just about ready to burn. We usually bring it in the house when it is approaching the syrup stage, and finish it on the stove where we can keep an eye on it.