Midwest: Yield

Below you will find a picture of my entire yield in the inaugural edition of Dave’s Watersweet Maple Syrup, a product of Watersmeet, Michigan.

That’s right, that’s one mason jar. And you’re also correct in noting that it’s about two-thirds full (generously interpreted). That’s all there is. That’s all she wrote. That’s all I got.

Now, in my own defense, I’m told by sugaring veterans that this was a tough year all around. The ideal conditions — cold nights and crisp, sunny days — to get the sap flowing were few in number. We even had a week of days in the 70’s and even 80’s right during the heart of what should have been the prime sap run. (We made up for it. As I write we’ve got about six inches of snow on the ground and more on the way.)

Still, lesson learned. Next year I have to tap more than a dozen trees. But this was a shake-out year anyway. I was gifted my friend Andy’s sugaring kit which came complete with the classic Backyard Sugarin’ how-to guide written by the king of backyard sugarin’ none other than Rick Mann.

It turns out that making syrup is simple. You tap some trees. You wait for the sap to collect in bags. You pour the sap into a big pan over a fire and you wait. You wait and you wait. You wait a long time. Then you wait some more. Eventually the water boils off and you’re left with a condensed brown sweet liquid. It’s like what pilots say about flying an airplane. It’s hours of boredom ending in a moment of terror. That’s because making maple syrup is all about bringing it in for the landing. My boiling sap held out at 204 degrees for hours. Then suddenly it shot up to 211 degrees and it was done. Had I let it go too long it could have quickly become maple candy. Not such a bad thing in its own right, but not what I had in mind and not easily combined with waffles or pancakes — and, I’m told, not easily scraped from the pan.

As it is, I erred on the side of caution. Had I flirted with disaster a little longer I would have gotten better truly syruppy consistency. What I got is on the watery side, but it tastes like syrup and that’s the main thing. Its primary purpose is likely to be parsed out a tablespoon at a time into my manhattans.

Also, if you don’t mind my saying so, it’s a lovely dark brown color. That’s because I had to leave the bags on the trees for three weeks while I went back to Madison to tend to other business. The highest grade maple syrup is much lighter in color because it’s made with fresh sap. Old sap lends a darker color to the finished product. Chemistry majors among our readers can provide the reasons below. But I like to think that old sap — or being an old sap — lends character and texture to the experience of consuming it in the one case or being around it in the other.

In any event, my shake-out year yielded less than a mason jar of syrup but gallons of invaluable experience which I will pour over my sugarin’ process next season. I’ve got a feeling 2023 might be a similar kind of year for a guy named Jordon Love.

Welcome to Midwest, an occasional feature here at YSDA, where we explore what’s good about the center. Want to read more about why it’s best to be in the middle? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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