I was in high school when I visited my first "sugar-shack" or boiling shed (or "cabane à sucre" in French). Sap from the sugar maple trees is poured in at one end and then boiled down in a long rectangular pan with baffles that slow the progression of the liquid as it evaporates into the concentrated syrup that comes out at the other end. I understand that European settlers first learned how to tap the trees and boil the sap (40 gallons of sap for each gallon of syrup) from Native Americans. My stepfather remembers riding the team of horses that pulled the huge barrel from tree to tree gathering the sap when he was a little boy. And he says that the best lunch in the world was throwing a package of hot dogs into the boiling syrup and fishing them out to eat piping hot.
There are still a few people in Michigan who make maple syrup in this old-fashioned process, tapping the trees by hand and sugaring off in wood-fired boiling sheds. I'm planning to visit Snow's Sugarbush in Mason, MI sometime this season. Mr. Snow is a regular at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market on Saturdays, even in the wintertime. We're running low on maple syrup and I haven't seen him lately, so I'm hoping we can hold out until that visit. I understand that they have an all-you-can-eat pancake and waffle breakfast (starting this weekend!) from February 17th through April 20th, Thursday-Sundays.
3188 Plains Rd.
Mason, MI 48854
I heard the early warm weather last year made for a terrible maple harvest, but that things are looking promising so far this year. Read more about Michigan maple from Absolute Michigan in March is Maple Syrup Time in Michigan, and see about getting to one of those maple syrup festivals from the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. Especially the original Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival April 25-27.
Michigan Maple Syrup Pie
2 cups pure Michigan maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
Set oven at 350 degrees. Beat ingredients together. Pour into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Top with 1 cup chopped nuts, if desired.
"The maples are tapped for their maple sap in early spring, whenever the weather has warmed so that day-time temperatures are above freezing — 0 °C (32 °F) — while night-time temperatures remain below freezing. Typically there will be snow cover on the ground during the tapping period. The tapping period ends when the supply of maple sap ceases, as when night-time temperatures begin to be above freezing. After the tapping period, some maple sugar bushes experience a profusion of spring wildflowers which take advantage of unobstructed sunlight before the maple leaves emerge. In summer, a healthy maple sugar bush is luxuriant and shady. Autumn leaves are colorful, especially on the sugar maples."