Home Syruping: Finding Solace in Traditional Skills During a Time of Social Distancing

Reader Contribution by Dyan Redick and Bittersweet Heritage Farm
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While we are besieged by a health epidemic, the likes of which we, in this country, and around the world, hoped to never experience, I am learning new skills.

I live on the rocky coast of Maine, a state famous for its independent spirit, rugged individualism, and never-give-up attitude. When the going gets tough, Mainers find a way through. Mainers are used to fending for themselves, helping each other out, and sticking together when the going gets tough. This is tough.

As a state, so far, we are not besieged by what’s happening in other places like New York, California, Italy, Spain, and Korea. (At least not as of this writing.) We are lucky, and we know it. As a transplant, I can say I see resilience in the people here unlike I’ve known. That resilience has rubbed off on me over the 11 years I’ve been calling Maine home.

Tapping Maple Trees On a Maine Property

This year, with more time being spent here on the farm, and here on the coast enjoying an easy end of winter, I decided it was time to try my hand at tapping into resources right here: my maple trees. Last week, I went to the local hardware store and came home with two metal taps, the kind you use to draw sap from trees to make syrup.

Every year in Maine, one whole weekend is dedicated to educating folks about making maple syrup. This coming weekend would normally be it, but due to social distancing, it is on hold, for now. Maple trees respond to the weather, not the calendar, so in spite of viruses and distancing, the sap is flowing. It takes warm days and cool nights to trigger the sap moving. Right now, that’s what we’re getting.

So, I took my newly sourced taps, a drill and a hammer and headed to the woods. My farm is a 20-acre spread, partly used for pasturing sheep, littered with native high bush blueberries, apple trees, blackberries and a mix of hard and soft wood trees.

Off the edge of the pasture is an old dug-out area. Maine is famous for its granite and stone. An indentation, just a few yards away from the chicken coop is evidence of “stone harvesting”. A path stretching along the edge of that old pit is one of my favorite spots. I decided on two maples I could easily access along that path.

Setting the taps was surprisingly easy and I was simply delighted when I drilled the second hole to insert the tap and sap literally came running out, spilling down the bark of the tree. Every morning for a week walks with my pup included emptying repurposed milk totes to collect the sap. At the end of the week, I had enough — a little over 2 gallons — to start cooking it down for syrup. Today was the day.

Home Syruping:  ‘It’s All About Connection’

I am by trade a cheesemaker. I love what I do because it keeps me grounded. Still, after 11 years of making cheese, I am in awe of the process. Mostly it’s about working with a living substance but it’s also about the connection. The process of hand-milking an animal is about intimacy. It’s about developing a sense of trust. Taking the results of that process and transforming it into food that nourishes us takes things to a whole other level.

I say over and over again, working with milk is amazing because milk is alive! I can take the same amount of milk, process it the same way and get a different result. Why? Because it’s alive. As a living substance, it knows better than me, how to make itself into something delicious.

Tapping trees, boiling sap, I am finding the same experience. After a week of collecting sap, it was time to see what this new process was all about. I can only say after hours of sitting by a kettle of what started out as clear, tasteless liquid, I feel like I’ve had a spiritual experience. Seriously! After a week of being glued to the TV, watching and wondering what will happen to all of us, it is all reduced down to a one pint jar of liquid gold.

I literally cried when it was done. I felt like, no matter what was going on in the world, wonderful things were still possible. And I felt empowered to know, I could be a part of a process that is as old as man in its simplicity and creativeness

There is hope in knowing we are connected, not just to one another but to something much bigger than that. As we tap into that connection, boil it down to what’s really important and share the result, we will get to the other side of this challenge. We’ve met challenges before. We know how to do it. It might get a little sticky and messy along the way, but, in that messiness, new things are discovered. Look for the good, dig deep and reach out. We’ve got this!

Dyan Redickis an artisan cheesemaker, writer, and fiber artist is coastal Maine where she operates Bittersweet Heritage Farm, a certified Maine State Dairy offering cheeses made with milk from a registered Saanen goat herd, a seasonal farmstand full of wool from a Romney cross ?ock, goat’s milk soap, lavender, woolens, and whatever else strikes her fancy. Follow Dyan on Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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