by Jessie Haas
My neighbor, Stephen Major, is sugaring, as people have done at this old sugarhouse for 100 years or more. He drives a pair of horses, Morgan/Percheron half siblings Henry and Nell, to gather sap from the buckets along the roads. Meanwhile sap self-gathers from plastic pipeline strung up the hillsides. Twenty years ago, when my book SUGARING came out, Stephen was using mainly buckets, and it was a lot easier to ride a horse through the local sugar bush.
This year, there’s no snow on the ground, and spring has come early. Stephen made more than 35 gallons of syrup in February. We don’t usually start sugaring till March around here, though last year the sap run went into April. So we’ve had a record cold sugaring season and a record warm one, back to back. Yesterday Stephen was gathering sap with his shirt off. It was 65 degrees out, and the sugarhouse must have been like a sauna. El Niño, or climate change? Probably both—and anything that changes sugaring season around here is unwelcome.
However, one very welcome change has come to New England since SUGARING was published. A few years ago kids suddenly began asking me, “Is Gramp a Red Sox fan?” I had no idea, but on examining the familiar illustrations (by the amazing Jos. A. Smith) more closely, I realized that the big B on the front of Gramp’s cap was a Red Sox logo.
Obviously I’m not a rabid sports fan, but if I care about any team it’s the Red Sox, and after an epic drought, the Sox had finally, finally won the World Series. What’s interesting is that Gramp always wore that Red Sox cap. No child ever mentioned it until the Curse was lifted. What was that about? Were Red Sox fans too humiliated to speak up, or did the kids simply never notice that cap until it became a source of pride?
We visited the sugarhouse later while Stephen was boiling, and he scooped us out a mug of syrup to taste. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed—the amazing taste of Vermont maple syrup, hot out of the pan. These days my favorite thing to make with it is maple butter. You heat a cup of maple syrup to the soft-ball stage, 240 degrees. Melt a stick and a half of butter into it (I use salted butter), then whip it with an electric mixer for 8 minutes. Maple butter is delicious on toast or an English muffin, or, let’s be honest, straight out of the jar by the spoonful. Make some. You won’t regret it.
In a couple of weeks I have a signing at the Vermont Country Store—a new venue for SUGARING, and a fun place to hang out. I like introducing the book to new readers, and I like even better hearing “I use that every year in my classes,” or “I loved that book when I was a kid.” (Though, really? I’m that old?)
Yes, I am . . . twenty years older, and so is SUGARING. The Red Sox have won the World Series twice, and we’ve had seven years and counting of an African-American president. Things change, even big things—but some of the best things don’t change much. Let’s drink to that, with a warm mug of new maple syrup.