|The K Family hard at work.|
Since we just don’t live at a time when kids spend large chunks of their days outdoors on their own, it helps to have an outdoor hobby if you want your family to spend time out of the house. In late winter, when other people are finishing up a ski season or watching at the window for spring to arrive, my friends Jason and Susan K. of Baden, PA, are in their backyard with their two young children making maple syrup.
From about mid to late January through late February, the K Family collects about 250 gallons of sap from maple trees in their yard and over the properties of four neighbors. They spend many days and evenings boiling it down over outdoor stoves into thick, delicious syrup.
“It gives us something to do before we start fishing again,” says Jason, who started making syrup just four years ago. “We wanted to have something to do to get the kids outside.”
|Just one of several stoves cooking syrup.|
Needless to say, Jason and Susan enjoy being outdoors and keeping their hands busy. They hunt, make their own sausage and tackle impressive DIY home improvement projects, among many other activities. Their home feels like a place where the adults are having fun alongside the kids, with the syrup making operation and building projects progressing next to the sandbox, a toy truck parade and preschool art creations.
The kids help out a lot, walking through the yards to check the containers at the taps on 30 maples and pouring the clear watery sap into a collection bucket two or three times a day. When the weather is right – cold nights and warm days – the sap runs fast. That means the K’s have to keep the propane stoves burning to cook off the water in the sap, leaving the rich, sugary stuff behind. The early sap runs produce light, honey-like syrup, while later in the season the syrup gets darker and more intensely flavored. By the end of the season, the K's will have made about 5 gallons of syrup. That’s a lot of pancakes.
When I first learned how simple it is to tap a tree, and that the sap is just cooked down to produce the same syrup I buy at the grocery store for nearly $20 a quart, I was ready to order my own tap from Amazon and sink it in my backyard maple tree. But maple syruping is a serious commitment – did you get that the ratio of sap to syrup is at least 45 to 1?! For a significant harvest, you are talking hours, days, evenings of cooking sap. And it all depends on the weather.
|The kids help collect the sap.|
And that’s why I admire the K Family so much. They’ve decided this is important for their family, and they involve their children in the process, too. It creates plenty of time for playing outside with the kids and dogs and working on other projects while keeping an eye on the sap.
|Late season syrup dark and rich.|
And, perhaps my favorite part, maple syrup time draws neighbors and friends, especially the ones contributing sap, who stop by to check on the progress, share a beer or just chat. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the gathering was like a neighborhood block party. Not something you always see in late February. And of course everyone leaves with a jar of syrup.
Thank you for letting me join in the fun, K Family!