How to Make
When in the early spring-time the snow and ice have been so softened by
the ever-increasing warmth of the sun's rays as to put an end to
coasting, skating, and other winter sports of the North, a new source of
amusement, equally fascinating to the children, is provided. It is
maple-sugar making, with all the delights of life in the camp, or "sugar
bush," as it is more generally called.
When the heat of the sun is sufficient to melt the snow, it is also
powerful enough to send the sweet sap of the rock and sugar maples
rushing through all the delicate bark veins up toward the branches and
twigs. At night, when the sun has set, and the air is full of a nipping
frost, the sap does not run; so, as it must be collected during the
daytime, the boiling is very often done at night.
As the first sap of the season is the sweetest and most abundant, the
sugar-makers are on the ground and making ready their camps upon the
first indications of "sap weather," as they call it. The sap runs,
according to locality, from the last of February until late in April,
and the sugar season lasts about four weeks in each place.
When the farmer thinks that sap weather is about setting in, he calls
his boys together; they load the big kettles and camp material on the ox
sleds, and start for the "bush," or grove of maple-trees, which is often
many miles from the house. When they reach the maple grove, all hands
find plenty to do. If it is a warm day, the trees must be immediately
tapped, and a couple of boys are started off with a sled-load of iron
spiles, each about six inches long, and a quantity of sap buckets or
short wooden troughs that have been cut out during the long winter
evenings. A slight cut is made through the bark of each tree, or an
auger hole is bored, a spile driven in directly beneath it, and at the
foot of the tree is left a trough so arranged as to catch the sap as it
drips from the end of the spile.
While the trees are being tapped, the men left in camp have been busy
enough building the rude shanties of logs and spruce boughs that are to
shelter them while they remain in the bush, cutting quantities of
fire-wood, and swinging the great kettles into place on the iron bar
that rests on two forked posts solidly fixed in the ground. Sometimes
great shallow pans of iron, set upon rude foundations of stone, are used
instead of the kettles, and the shanty in which the men live is often a
very permanent structure of logs, that can be used for many years.
Late in the afternoon the sleds, each carrying a large cask or hogshead,
are sent around to the maple-trees, all the sap buckets are emptied, and
finally the casks, full of what tastes like sweetened water, are drawn
slowly back to camp. The sap is poured into the big kettles, the fires
lighted, and the "syruping down" begins. The pans or kettles are kept
constantly full from the barrels of sap standing near by, and sometimes
the bubbling liquid boils over. When it does this, a bit of bacon is
thrown in, and the troubled waters subside.
The boiling is continued until the watery sap has been changed into a
rich syrup, when it is drawn off into casks for future use, or into
other iron kettles to be boiled again until it becomes sugar. This
second boiling must be done very carefully, or the syrup will become
burned and spoiled. It is constantly stirred with a long-handled wooden
paddle, and both eggs and milk are often thrown in to purify it. The
scum that rises to the top is carefully removed, and thrown out on the
snow, to the delight of the children, who watch for it to cool and
partially harden. They call it "maple candy" or "taffy," and regard it
as a treat.
When by testing on the snow, or in cold water, the syrup is found to
have boiled long enough, it is run into moulds, where it cools into
cakes of maple sugar, or the kettle is lifted from the fire, and its
contents stirred and beaten as they cool, until they become coarse brown
sugar that can be used in cooking.
SCENES IN A SUGAR BUSH