I spent Monday at the farm watching my brother boil sap for the first time. He hauled out the evaporator pan that my father used more than 50 years ago and built a burner underneath it.
I spent Monday at the farm watching my brother boil sap for the first time. He hauled out the evaporator pan that my father used more than 50 years ago and built a burner underneath it. Dad did his over an open fire down by the creek. Don is boiling out by his garage. Monday was pretty chilly, even in the sun, but it was toasty warm next to the boiler.
I love maple syrup, but only the real syrup. I won’t eat the fake stuff, I won’t eat the "made with real maple syrup flavoring" either. Nope, it has to be 100 percent real, and it’s even better if I was present for the boiling.
What can I say, I’m spoiled. I like it that way, too.
There is something about sitting around watching sap cook down that’s, well, I really can’t explain it. People who have been there before understand, those who haven’t should try it sometime. It’s time consuming, the end can be rather hectic (timing is everything) but yet it’s kind of relaxing. Wood smoke, hot fire and lots of steam. It’s peaceful.
That’s the closest that I can describe it. Not to mention that nothing tastes like fresh maple syrup just barely cool enough for your mouth. Homemade vanilla ice cream with fresh syrup is pretty good too. Buckwheat pancakes with homemade butter and fresh syrup are even better.
I’m a food snob, I use only real ingredients when I cook, no fake cheese and sawdust for filler for this kid. Margarine is a damned insult, as far as my taste buds are concerned. Fat free, sugar substitute, and caffeine free are dirty words in my vocabulary. I was reading food labels way before it was the “in” thing, and I’m not terribly fond of a lot prepared foods. I’m not perfect, I crave Chef Boyardee Meat Raviolis occasionally, and I buy mayo rather than make it most of the time, but I usually do like to know exactly what it is that I’m eating.
My parents had a big garden every year when I was growing up, we canned and froze corn that we grew, we drank raw milk and 9 times out of 10, Mom made our bread rather than buying it. She made butter every once in a while, too.
We canned applesauce, peaches, pears and plums; all from trees out behind the house. We had raspberry bushes and strawberries, rhubarb, currants for jam and mom would make elderberry pies from the elderberries that grew down by the creek. We had hickory trees and black walnuts too. I spent many a fall day gathering nuts and putting them in paper grocery bags. I remember being sent down cellar for Grandma once and smelling this god-awful stench coming out of a big crock on the landing. Sauerkraut. Thank God it tasted a lot better a couple of months later.
I prefer my veggies to be homegrown, and I’m getting so that I like knowing where my meats came from, too. And what they were fed. There’s just too many chemicals and too many hormones being pumped into us.
I realize that most of it happens during the processing, but still, if I grow it, I know exactly what all has happened to it. If I didn’t grow it myself, I prefer it to come from some place local and from someone I know. I never thought that I would see the day that I would become one of those crazy tree-hugger types, but the older I get, the less tolerant I am about people screwing with my food.
One of the saddest things is that most of today’s Americans don’t even know what real food tastes like, they’re used to cellophane wrap and cardboard boxes.
There are people who would starve if drive-thrus and restaurants who deliver shut down, and I’m not talking about the homeless dumpster divers, I mean actual working-class Americans.
Oh well, some of us know the difference and we try to pass it on. Maple syrup, butter, fresh veggies, milk that tastes like it’s supposed to, fresh fruits. I’m making myself hungry here. I can’t wait for spring to get the garden going.
I guess after eating like royalty for the first few years of my life I just can’t bear the thought of eating like a normal American. Like I said, I’m spoiled and I like it.
Norah Flanagan of Hornell writes a weekly column for the Evening Tribune and the Daily Reporter.