Mad for Maple Syrup!

Dave Skyberg, Baxter, MN

Don’t you just love maple syrup? Heck, everybody loves maple syrup! Paul does. Babe does. The whole loggin’ crew goes mad for maple syrup! But do you know how it’s made? Well I’m here to tell ya.Dressed as Paul Bunyan, Ron Johnson, Breezy Point, tastes the maple syrup he tapped and processed for many years.

My name’s Sweet Tooth Torvold Tolleffsson. I’m the camp’s head sap tapper, and by golly I know a thing or two about tappin’ sap. But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself.

See, maple syrup— and I’m talkin’ real maple syrup, not the sugary goop you get in a bottle at the store— is the closest thing to heaven on earth. And on flapjacks. And oatmeal. And muffins. And... well, just about everything’s better with maple syrup! But it takes some doin’.

The first thing you need is a maple tree. And the more maple trees ya got, the more maple syrup you’re gonna get. Well bein’ on Paul Bunyan’s loggin’ crew and in the woods all winter, I got thousands of maple trees. And no, we don’t cut ’em down. It’s against the Lumberjack Code to cut down a maple tree. You can get fired on the spot if you do! Or worse!

The next thing you need is a sap tap. The more the better, because the more sap taps ya got... well, you know the rest. And buckets! You need a bucket for every sap tap, and believe you me, we’re up to our sideburns in sap taps and buckets!

Okay, so here’s the drill. You go up to a maple tree and rap in the sap tap. Oh, I almost forgot. You’re gonna need a sap tap rapper. That’s a big wooden mallet you use to rap sap taps. Every sap tapper’s gotta have a good sap tap rapper. We have lots of assistant sap tappers, so we’re up to our sideburns in those too.

Now, some maple trees are bigger than others and can handle two or three sap taps. Bein’ the head sap tapper, I’m the one who decides how many sap taps to rap into every maple tree. I’ve been doin’ it for so long, I can tell how many sap taps to rap in a snap!

One spring we had about a hundred guys out there rappin’ sap taps and it got so loud Paul leaned down to me and hollered, “Holy crap! That’s a lot of sap tap rappin’!” I just shrugged my shoulders and told him, “Hey, the more sap tap rappers you got, the more maple syrup you’re gonna get.” He’d heard that one before. And so have you, now that I think about it.

Anyway, once you get all your sap taps rapped, you hang a bucket on every one of ’em and the raw maple sap drips into the bucket, slow as molasses in January. Actually, it’s more like maple sap in April, but you get the picture. After awhile, you get a bucketful of sap, and it’s off to the sugar shack.

Now the sugar shack is a thing of beauty, and ours is huge! It’s a big, open-sided pole barn with a fire pit and a giant copper kettle we use for boiling down the sap. It takes up to 50 quarts of sap to make just one quart of syrup, so it takes quite a while to concentrate, and the fire has to be just right— not too hot, not too cool. I can tell by the sound of the bubbles and the smell of the steam, and boy, does it smell good!

Once it boils down to syrup, I dip in my finger and take a little taste. It’s the most important step to make sure it’s Certified Fit For Flapjacks. Then into the barrels it goes, and Babe hauls ’em down to camp for bottling.

Now bottling is a whole ’nother story, but there’s jug luggers and funnel fillers and cork crammers and label slappers and... well, it’s a real production! But once it’s done, you’ve got yourself the richest, sweetest, lipsmackin’est nectar that ever caressed a corn dodger. And that’s sayin’ a mouthful!

Say, here’s a fun story you might not have heard. Late one February it was colder than a well digger’s... well, it was pretty darn cold. About three feet of fresh snow had fallen the night before and boy, were we hungry for bacon and eggs and piping hot flapjacks.

When Sourdough Sam finally rang the breakfast bell, we stampeded the cook shack and knocked over our very last barrel of maple syrup, spillin’ it out on that new-fallen snow. Well, you never heard such an uproar! Two hundred lumberjacks, fussin’ and cussin’ and carryin’ on like wildcats in a gunny sack! No maple syrup for breakfast! What could be worse? It was chaos!

Sam knew he’d have to come up with somethin’ before he had a full-blown riot on his hands. Thinkin’ quick, he grabbed a flapjack and rolled it up into a cone. Then he dipped up a handful of that maply snow and plopped it right inside. It was brilliant! The world’s first maple syrup snow cone!

Pretty soon everybody had one and it worked out just fine. It wasn’t hot flapjacks, but it was pretty good after a scalding gulp of coffee. Kinda evened out in your belly, and it still tasted great! You should try it sometime.

Y’know, you can still find Paul Bunyan’s Maple Syrup if you know where to look. Check with some of the folks on the Byway. They’ll steer you in the right direction.

Well, gotta go. Got a whole lotta sap tappin’ to do. And you know what they say. The more sap taps you rap...