At about 38 weeks pregnant, I drove over to my family’s farm on a chilly but sunny late February afternoon to help tap trees. I use the term “help” loosely, as I waddled my way around the 60-acre property with my large belly, stomping in the fresh snow, camera in hand. We followed a path on the farm’s perimeter that I knew well from my childhood: along the main road down the steep hill by the horse pasture, along the apple orchard, past my parents’ house and grandparents’ log cabin, into the woods along the hayride trail, by the river, and back up the hill to the farm market. We drilled into trees that bear the scars of over three hundred years’ worth of maple syrup production, put in quills and hung buckets.
On our little farm in Connecticut, sugaring season is the ultimate sign of rebirth and renewal, marking the end of the long, cold, dark winter and the beginning of spring. It seemed perfectly fitting that my son, warm and safe inside my womb, would be a part of this experience just weeks before he was born.
My son Joshua is a member of a disappearing breed: the farming family. While farms all around us have been sold and developed, my family has been able to hold onto ours for 365 years. We all work our own jobs off of the farm but come back together to keep it going because it runs in our veins. We all recognize the importance of the land and the work in our lives. So instead of relaxing with my feet up, excitedly anticipating the arrival of my first child, I put on my snow boots. I was determined to include my son in this tradition.
The following February, when Joshua was just under a year old and not yet walking, I bundled him up and carried him around the same path that my family has walked for hundreds of years. He adored watching his grandfather, great-grandfather and uncles tap trees. He excitedly pretended to ride the tractor, hung onto me tightly as we rode in the back of the pickup truck, and listened intently to our stories. He laughed at flying snowballs and squealed with delight as he pet the warm, friendly farm dogs.
This spring, Joshua will be able to help. Even a two-year-old can help carry a bucket and hand over a quill. Maybe he’ll even get a chance to try out the drill. And so we will continue the early spring ritual of tapping trees, collecting sap and boiling it down to make sweet, amber maple syrup. Maple syrup is a part of my son Joshua’s heritage, and I hope that it will always be a part of his future.
Ideas for Using Maple Syrup
- Stir a teaspoon into your morning coffee or tea
- Use a tablespoon as a replacement for honey or sugar when proofing yeast for bread or pizza dough
- Make a glaze for meat using a few tablespoons of maple syrup, a minced clove of garlic and a tablespoon of whole grain mustard
- Pour some over slices of cornbread to have Johnny Cakes, which my family always eats to celebrate sugaring season
- Top vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of syrup for a “Sugar on Snow” sundae