We got permission from our back-door neighbors to tap the maple tree that grows right outside of May’s window. It’s a beautiful tree, and the foliage makes the north side of our building very treehouse-like in the summer.
It’s not a sugar maple, it’s a silver maple. I know this because I spent half an hour one day last October on a website tracking down the variations in the serrations of maple leaves. And silver maples don’t give nearly as much sugar as sugar maples, but I’m willing to try.
We went to the Drumlin Farm Audubon store to buy the special hanging bucket and the tap, which known in the biz as a spile. I know this because I read “Little House in the Big Woods” to May recently, not because I’m in the biz. It cost a grand total of $13, which is less than you pay for a bottle of real syrup these days. (Much less than the $140-plus-shipping kit that Martha recommends, even if you triple it because that kit taps three trees.)
It took me a while to charge up the drill and then the drill was a little hard to handle in the hard wood of the maple, but I managed. Then I hammered the spile in using a handy rock. Then I realized I’d hammered the damned thing in upside down and will now make my husband go out and fix it tomorrow, because I don’t have the hand strength to wrench it from the wood. But soon, we hope, we’ll have sap to turn into syrup. For next to nothing! And we can do it every year!
Of course, in our modern world, it wasn’t nearly that easy. My husband works for the EPA and I made him do some quick research on our building’s site to make sure that the ground is unlikely to be contaminated. (Dirt in these parts is very likely to be contaminated with lead and arsenic, thanks to all the apple orchards, not to mention the trains that ran through here.) Happily, there’s been a fire station here since before the chemical revolution, so it’s likely to be safe.
In New England, there’s a lot of myth and poetry about the sugar house — fathers and sons sitting in a small shack, having taciturn bonding sessions while they tend the fire in the cold February afternoons. And I will nod at that tradition, but I like the idea of hauling the sap up two flights to my condo kitchen and boiling off a micro-batch in the big pan on my stove.
Wish me luck!