MAKING MAPLE SYRUP THE “OLD-FASHIONED” WAY
Phil recalls his family’s creativeness: “We had about 50 galvanized pails and about 50 six-quart oil cans of all brands – Pure Oil, Mobil, Standard, Shure-Lube, Sinclair and others – even some one-gallon Crisco cans and a large two-gallon Red Dot Potato Chip can.” Even a large fish bowl was placed on a rock between two trees to collect the sap that ran from the tapped trees. They used a few galvanized spiles, but most of the taps were handmade from sumac trees by heating a wire in the fire and using it to burn a hole in the soft center of the wood.
The fire also doubled as a cook fire for supper, and as a child Phil’s favorite part of making syrup was cooking hotdogs, “We couldn’t wait to get home from school to see how the trees ran and if we were going to have a cookout. Grandma and Grandpa always brought bottled soda from the service station, and Grandpa was an expert at roasting marshmallows.” The family would cook hotdogs and the like before the evening milking, and Phil says, “It was great fun for my brother and me.”
When the right moment came, the challenge was to rake the fire from beneath the pan as quickly as possible. Often gloves, hands, face, boots, and even hair would be singed in the rush. As soon as the fire was pulled, the race was on to dip the boiled sap out of the pan and filter it while it was hot. Filtering would become a slow waiting process if it cooled too much.
The syrup was further cooked to 218 degrees, and finally filtered through a piece of milk filter cut to fit a canning funnel. It was a slow process, and could take an entire day if the syrup had been removed from the fire too soon. “The person cooking the syrup could be a hero or something else in the eyes of the people canning,” says Phil.
For the clearing and canning, the family used an electric stove in the basement. Phil’s mother , Alene, used the kitchen stove for canning only once before learning a messy lesson: She had to wash the walls and all of the cupboards because they became sticky from the steam!