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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where the Muddy Roads Lead

Dotted across the woods line of Vermont you'll find little wooden shacks that are not quite a barn and not quite a shed.  Most of the year these shacks sit dormant, cold, and empty, but when the snow begins to melt, the roads fill thick with mud, and, most importantly, when the sap begins to run they come to life. 

Of course I am referring to Maple Sugaring Season!  Its not to be confused with mud season, although they do coinside and it is widely known that every sugar house must be reached by first traveling the muddiest of roads.  Four wheel drive is an absolute.  Tractors are preferred.

Shawn and I went and visited a friend's Sugar House this past weekend.  Its an a beautiful spot near the famous Jenne Farm in Reading, VT. Him and his cousin were busy boiling fresh running tree sap into delicious, sweet, maple syrup.  The sight of billowing steam greeted us as we reached the Sugar House.

Well over a thousand gallons of sap had been run into the boiler and siphoned through the pans; slowly boiled over time in a step down process until only the golden brown, perfect, sticky liquid.  The sap transforming from clear water into pure magic.  

We watched as the syrup in the final step of the boiling pans thickened, heated, and reached the perfect temperature to come flowing out of a spout and into a bucket.  Pure Gold.

In some strange chemistry-like experiment the exact consistency of the syrup was tested and the temperature of the boiler adjusted appropriately.  It is a little more technical than it used to be a century ago where horse drawn wagons went around collecting individual buckets hung on trees.  Now tubes connect tree to tree and eventually all of them lead to a gravity fed storage tank where a tractor can easily pick up just one large tank.  No buckets, no snow, and a lot more time spend in the Sugar House enjoying hotdogs.  

Besides taking the occasional shot of fresh, warm maple syrup the food of choice is a nice, juicy hotdog.  Boiled in fresh Maple Sap, naturally.  Let me say that it was the best, most magical, hotdog I have ever had and that has nothing to do with being pregnant.  There is just something about boiling food in sap that makes it a hundred times more amazing. 

As the light dimmed in the sky and the cold air rushed into the valleys and creeped through the cracks in the walls of the shack Shawn and I bid our friend and his cousin farewell.  With my belly content, filled with syrup and a maplely delicious hot dog (that, not after writing about it, I desperately am craving again), we thanked our friend for allowing us to be part of his long standing family tradition for part of an afternoon and headed back down the muddy roads. 

This is just one of the eighty seven thousand five hundred and thirty reasons I absolutely love Vermont.


Anonymous said...

Was that hot dog boiled in ... raw sap or some stage of the boil down?? That is interesting.
Have fun day - Bill

MarieElizabeth said...

I grew up in the Ohio area of maple syrup country. To this day it makes my week to smell the sap simmering and wait for the fresh candy to be made. My SIL doesn't understand why we insist on real maple syrup for pancakes...then again she comes from a corn farm, so that might have something to do with it! Love the idea of hot dogs boiled in sap, might need to hit up some friends to try that.

janel said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful photos and narrative. It has been my dream since I was a little girl to go to maple sugar season..I remember reading about it in my Weekly Reader. You post has made that dream a bit more real. ENJOY! I agree, nothing like the real thing!

Jen at Cabin Fever said...

Jen at Cabin Fever said...

It was boiled in sap that had gone through a small portion of the step down process. It was still mostly clear sap :)

And Janel,
I am glad I helped feed your dream! Hope you make it to a sugar house one day!

Rachel Roushey said...

Looks like we both had fun hanging out around boiling sap this weekend! (did you see my post yet?)....except I have to say that where you went was much more sophisticated than the outdoor operation I visited. Luckily both resulted in something very sweet!

Sandy said...

We live in Wisconsin and here it is called Sugarbush. We tap the trees on our property every year and still hang the buckets by hand. Unfortunately, this year is proving tricky for the trees (we are currently under 12+ inches of snow from the on-going winter storm that hit yesterday) to produce their yummy sap.

Love the idea of cooking hotdogs in the sap... may have to try that one this year!

elliemoon said...

yum and yum! and that hot dog sounds amazing!

Rosanne said...

I have never been to a sugar house, but it sure sounds fun! I love REAL maple syrup! :)

Tricia @ Saving room for dessert said...

I bet you smelled sweet and mapley when you left the sugar house. Lovely process.

Tammy said...

HI, My name is Tammy and I am your newest follower. Found you on the Pioneer Womans site and your blog title caught my eye. I love log cabins too :)

aka, The Not so Perfect Momma :)

Erin said...

Jen, I'm 13 weeks along and was told that hot dogs are a no-no during pregnancy, but if you have information otherwise, I would love to know, because that hot dog boiled in sap sounds mighty delicious right about now!!! :)

Jen at Cabin Fever said...


My OB actually told me the same thing. I researched this and found one source saying they were high in nitrates (all processed foods are), which can be converted in the stomach to a byproduct linked to cancer. This is true whether you are pregnant or not. However, processed foods now contain far less nitrates than in the past.

Also, this seems to be the main reason they are mentioned as no-no foods during pregnancy, hotdogs and deli-meats carry the risk of listeria. Listeria is easily killed by high temperatures so it is recommended to heat any processed/deli meat before consumption. If the meat is properly cooked they are completely safe.

This was my FIRST hotdog during my pregnancy so I am not worried and I think if you have one or two you'll be just fine :)

...hope that lengthy answer helps! haha

Sewhappy said...

The whole process of collecting sap, sugar houses and making syrup has always intrigued me. Growing up in CA, I have never seen anything like this in person. Thanks for you post and pictures, very interesting!

Kristin said...

My OB's opinion on hot dogs: "You can eat pretty much anything if you cook it to death first." This applies to hot dogs, deli meat, chicken, and steak, especially. We had some well-boiled hot dogs and baked tater tots here for lunch. Being pregnant with number 2 and having a one year old means hot dogs are pretty much a staple around here.

Smile Steady said...

That's so neat! Although I am not a fan of hot dogs OR maple syrup (I know- crazy, right?), I love seeing how these things are done. And I'm still amazed at how different life is for you guys up there! I really must come visit one day. Maybe after November for a baby playdate? ;)

A New England Life said...

Seriously? I never, ever heard of a hot dog boiled in syrup. What a wonderful sugar shack! And talk about mud, oh yeah, that's some mud alright. The sugar shack I photographed had plenty of mud too.

Looks like you are definitely out of regular jean by now ; )

Beth said...

Growing up in Michigan, our neighbors used to tap our trees each spring to make syrup. They'd pay us in syrup for the favor. It was nice to put the trees to work. It may have been a dairy farm, but the name of it is Maple Grove Farm!

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