You Can’t Always Get What You Want

A lot of people think we should tap our sugar maples.  It would be nice.  Who doesn’t love maple syrup?  When I come down the drive toward the house, with our beautiful old maples on each side, I smack my lips thinking about all the nice syrup we could make. At least I do in winter.  In the summer I am just grateful for the wonderful shade our sugar maples provide, and the dramatic way they lead us to Theodate’s pretty country house.  Sugar Maples give good shade in summer and good shape in winter, for their branches reach pleasingly toward the sky, and it is agreeable to watch them pointing upward even in their leafless state.  This tree is just chock-a-block full of goodness, and I don’t just mean the syrup.  It is a highly-favored fuel wood, but more excitingly perhaps it is used for bowling alleys, baseball bats, furniture and dance floors.

Now it’s almost sugaring time.  You need freezing nights and above-freezing days to start the sap running.  Also needed is someone to run around to all the trees you tapped at least once a day, to collect the buckets of sap.  That someone would also have to be willing to lug the precious buckets (no spilling, now) to wherever your boiling operation is.  The work is multiplied by the number of trees you tap.  Boiling off the sap is also arduous, and it goes on until all the water is boiled out, and what is left is a sugary residue-syrup.  Sugar maples give the best sap, though you can tap Black Maples and Red Maples, too.  The Black and Red ones have a flatter tasting syrup, but when you consider syrup as a whole, that’s not so bad.

Maple sugaring is simple.  You wait until winter is beginning to slope off like a guest who stayed a bit overtime.  Then you eyeball your maples.  How big are they?  If the maple is less than twenty inches around you can only put one spile (spout) in.  Up to twenty five inches, you can use two, and anything above that you can tap three times.  You’ll probably get about 15 gallons of sap per tree.  Ten gallons of sap makes about a quart of syrup.  After you collect the sap, boil off all the water until the sweet residue is left, then you’ll have to strain it to get bugs and “sugar sand”-naturally occurring mineral deposits, out.  Then you can bottle it, if you aren’t dead from exhaustion. The high price of maple syrup is justified, in my opinion.

People keep urging us to tap.  I don’t think that is what Theodate Pope had in mind when she planted the maples along the driveway leading to her home.  I think she wanted a “look”.  (It has always been referred to as “an allee of trees” which is a frenchy/botany way of saying the driveway has trees lining both sides.)  And although she would in no way have been opposed to the tapping itself (she was a farmer at heart if nothing else), she would have been sensitive to our perennial, urgent need for thrift.  Museums are all feeling the pinch right now, but none more than our own lovely and precious place which lacks a financial endowment of any real kind.  We raise the budget from scratch, year after year.  I cannot myself understand why we have had no gigantic sugar daddy behind us. But there are many such unanswerable questions in my mind always.  So, as far as maple sugaring goes it is ironically too expensive for us. We have no extra to pay for the work involved with syrup-making.  Someday, we say to ourselves in a dreamy way, we’ll get a huge gift and we’ll insert the thin edge of the wedge against the idea of some farming. With, just for a start, some maple sugaring in winter to go along with the sheep farming in the summer.  Now, that would be sweet.

See you on the trails,Diane Tucker, Estate Naturalist


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12 Responses to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

  1. Bridget Willard Says:

    They’re beautiful! What a driveway!

  2. Sue Sturtevant Says:

    I enjoyed the maple sugar story. It reminded me of the time I boiled a big kettle of syrup in the kitchen and everything got sticky, sticky! And thanks for the simple facts of financing a museum–it wasn’t syrupy at all…

  3. Joy Says:

    The word “stately” must have been coined with these trees in mind. They look so very elegant!

    • Diane Tucker Says:

      I agree, Joy. It is inspiring to see them. Thanks for visiting-I hope you come back. Regards, Diane

  4. Patsy Says:

    Maple trees are beautiful..summer, winter or fall. Except when one has to rake the leaves!
    Excellent article.

  5. Diane Tucker Says:

    Thank you Patsy! Come see Hill-Stead in person sometime. We won’t hand you a rake! Cheers, Diane

  6. Patsy Says:

    But I’d rake! I don’t mind making the pile of leaves, it’s bagging them that’s the problem!

  7. Jacqueline Says:

    What a photo! What a driveway! If I lived here I’d never leave! Great post. I had no idea how one tapped a tree & made Maple Syrup. Sounds like a lot of HARD work.

  8. Ted C. MacRae Says:

    This was a really interesting article, and the estate looks so beautiful!

    • Diane Tucker Says:

      Hi Ted, Thanks for taking a look. You should come see Hill-Stead sometime. It IS spectacular, and I bet we have lots of beetles you would like!
      Cheers, Diane

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