Jan. 16: Not your typically ‘sappy’ seasonal column

The first thaw of the spring is holiday in my family. It’s not that we despise the cold Northeast Ohio winter weather, far from it. The thaw means there’s work to be done. It’s time for the first run of the season.

My grade school teachers in Columbus thought it strange when I explained to them I would be missing class to go make maple syrup. Even when the words came from father’s mouth as he was signing me out, they seemed vexed.

“You’re taking him out of school to make maple syrup? Like Mrs. Butterworth?”

My old man couldn’t say if it was anything like Mrs. Butterworth. He’d never touch the stuff.

“We make real maple syrup,” he would simply reply.

And we would be off to Gustavus, a small rural town in Trumbull County where he was born and raised.

By the time we got to my grandparents’ farm, Papa Logan was already out in the sugar woods with my father’s five brothers and their kids. We had to change and hurry, but Grammy would send us with supplies for the woods – hotdogs, rolls, soda and the like.

The imprints on the ground from the old Allis Chalmers half-track were our walkway. The maple trees surrounding us were adorned with old tin sap buckets. My dad would take one off, and we would watch – for just a minute – as the sap dripped from the spile onto the muddy, leafy ground below.

We could smell the Sugar House before we caught sight of it. The delectable aroma of boiling sap traveled quickly through the brisk forest air and sped our pace. I hopped the creek that ran next to old wooden shack, while my dad grabbed a beer from the old sap bucket floating in the water.

Papa would be inside with the uncles, skimming the foam off the boiling sap in the wood-fired evaporator pans. We could hardly see any of them through all the steam.

Once Papa fired up the half-track, my cousins and I would hop on the sap cart behind it and hold on for dear life as he navigated the rugged Sugar Woods trail.

He would stop by a cluster of Maples and we’d jump off with 5-gallon plastic buckets, pour the sap into them, and lug them back to cart to empty into the tank. When the tank was full, it was back to the Sugar House.

By then, the first quart of syrup was ready. Papa would pour golden-brown nectar into an old tin coffee mug and we would pass it around, each taking a sip from the first run of the season.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of maple syrup. We never made money off of it. Grammy’s pancakes the next morning were all the payment we needed.

Holidays are best spent with family. We just spend ours sloshing through mud – with sap splashing and soaking our clothes

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