Posts Tagged ‘family tradition’

Maple Syrup Season 2013

Posted on April 29th, 2013 by Tonia 11 Comments

We came, we went, we made over 30 gallons of maple syrup.

Since my last post, I have swung wildly from “Still like winter! Winter’s OK! Take your time, I’m fine!” to “Oh my god, when will it eeeeeeend. I haven’t seen the sun in 8 long months. I’m going to die.” But turns out all this late-season cold weather and snow that we’ve (I’ve) been whining about made for a pretty great syrup season! It was like the old days, before global warming, when spring was an actual season that lasted a few months instead of just an afternoon melt session in March where winter cedes the win to summer in the time it takes to frantically brew iced-tea and shave your legs.

My maple-syrup-loving self was delighted that spring didn’t vanish before our eyes, but my I-NEED-SOME-DAMN-VITAMIN-D self was just a liiiiiittle crabby about the full-blown snowstorm we got on April 18. Yeah. We’re talking around 20″ of new snow.

So before we talk about our awesome maple syrup season, here’s a taste of what we were dealing with around here last week (I’m looking for a little sympathy here, in case you didn’t pick up on that.)

Ok, that’s quite enough of that. Moving on.

This was the first season in several years where we needed snowshoes for tromping around from bucket to bucket in the woods. The fact that the roots of the trees were insulated by all that snow made the season progress slowly and steadily, instead of the sap gushing out at light-speed and being done within a week. The slow runs made for easier collections because the buckets would only be 1/4 to 1/2 full each time we went out, rather than brimming/over-flowing.

The sugar content was very high and went up as the season progressed, starting out at about 2.5 and ending at 3.5. This allowed for a shorter boiling time and lighter syrup (the longer the sap cooks, the darker the syrup.) We achieved the ideal honey-amber color and smooth, buttery flavor with each batch.

My little brother Danny firing the evaporator and checking sap levels in the pans.

Lunch, enjoyed in the sap house while we worked: Curried butternut squash soup and fresh-caught trout.

Mike pouring finished syrup into the canner.

My mom, Sammi (Danny’s girlfriend), and me canning up a batch.

As a special treat in the middle of a particularly long day of boiling, we made up a whole pile of doughnuts and dunked them in the hot syrup.

You guys…I’m not even going to attempt to explain how out-of-this-world delicious they were. There are no words– just loud, happy, grunting noises and chewing. We will be doing this every year from now on.

As usual, syruping was a lot of work and we all sigh a little sigh of relief when it’s over and normal-life returns. But being together, working out in the fresh air and quiet woods with my family, joking and talking and laughing as we go, is what makes it special and worthwhile. It’s a yearly tradition that has taken place almost every year of my entire life!

Happy 26th season, Maple Moon Sugarbush! Thanks for the liquid gold, and the memories.

Oh, and Mr. Spring? In case you didn’t get the memo…it’s April. You can go ahead and warm up and melt all this snow and start pushing up tulips anytime now. That’d be great.

P.S. Posts from seasons past can be found here.
P.P.S. I promise I will start taking REAL photos again…Instagram is great for documenting little moments here and there, but I think we can all agree that my cell-phone camera compares poorly to the real thing.

Maple Moon Sugarbush: The 25th Season

Posted on March 19th, 2012 by Tonia 4 Comments

25 years ago, my parents tapped the maple trees on their sugarbush for the first time. They had just moved back to the States after serving in the Peace Corps for eight years in South America. Being from Chicago originally, my dad was familiar with Northern Wisconsin from vacationing up here with his family as a kid. He started looking around for land and stumbled upon the property they have now called home for 25 years.

It was way back in the woods- eleven miles from the closest town- and had nothing on it but a small log cabin, built with hand tools, and maple trees galore. I mean, TONS of maple trees. My dad’s dream of having a maple syrup operation was looking more realistic. They didn’t waste any time. They hobbled together a makeshift evaporator that first spring, and borrowed taps and pails from anyone who had some to spare.

My mom skimming the foam off the cooking sap – 1987

One of the beauties of maple syrup is that it can be made in a completely low-tech manner. The Native Americans made it using birch-bark “pails”. Over the years we have upgraded from the original cinder-block situation you see above, but it’s still a pretty basic operation: We tap the trees, the sap runs out into the pails, we collect the sap, cook it down, and syrup happens!

Little helpers: my God-brother Brady and me. Age 2 – 1987

My dad’s parents drove up from Chicago to taste the first batch. They love the Northwoods {honeymooned at a rustic lodge up here back when the only transportation to this “wild north land” was a train…unless you wanted to drive the whole way on a dirt road!} and ended up buying a summer cabin about a half hour away.

The operation expanded pretty quickly and my parents bought a draft horse to pull a sled through the woods to make collecting easier. At their most productive, they were tapping about 1200 trees. Customers navigated our 1/2 mile long logging-trail driveway to buy our syrup. We had a sign nailed to a tree half-way down it that read “Keep going, almost there!” because some people would chicken out and turn around thinking they were lost. “Who would live way back here??”

Now, 25 years later, we have scaled back to a comfortable number of 250 taps, and the second generation is gearing up to take a much larger role in the process.

Happy 25th birthday, Maple Moon!!!

Click here to see syruping posts from the past few years.

A Family of Photogenically Impaired Individuals

Posted on September 10th, 2011 by Tonia 2 Comments

I promised you photos from our week at “Woodchuck” a loooong time ago, didn’t I? Shoot. Well, at least I didn’t wait until the middle of winter to write this post…when you’re shivering in your long-johns in January, nothing is more irksome than seeing someone’s summery photographs with their smug sun-flares and their tan, freckled, happy faces. Amiright? So let’s get this over with before it snows, shall we?

A HEADS UP: As I looked back at these photos, one thing became clear: My family is incapable of taking attractive photographs. We’re really not that awful-looking in real life, I swear! But somehow we managed to go a whole week without capturing a normal picture of any of us. See for yourself.

My brother and his girlfriend enjoying lunch on the front porch.
{Top} Mike and his reading buddy, enjoying coffee on the porch in the early morning.
{Bottom} The fathskie, reclining.
A dip in the lake.
Fresh grilled corn.
Charlie indulging his two loves: sunshine, sticks.
A night-time pontoon-boat ride complete with star-gazing and music-playing.
This next series is especially disturbing…
Why is Mike way over there?
Crud, Danny blinked. Let’s try again…
Ugh! Mike!!
Tonia!! OMG! One more try…
I’m serious you guys, knock it off!
FINALLY!!  I need a drink.
Canoeing and fishing.
Nature hikes.
Scavenging for mushrooms.
Velociraptor attacks.

Morning coffee on the porch….with a friend.
Making spaghetti sauce.
The whole famn damily.


Ohhhhh boy. That was fun. The cabin is definitely one of my favorite places on this planet. So many memories have been made there over the years with our family, immediate and extended.

Clearly, Mike and I lucked out in the family department. BOTH our families are kick-ass {apologies for the curse word. I only do it when absolutely necessary, you know.} His, however, might be slightly more photogenic… 😉

And now, thanks to these photos, I am officially missing summer.

The Whole Famn Damily Goes Camping

Posted on August 8th, 2011 by Tonia 9 Comments

I married into a pretty swell bunch of folks. We had a great time together this weekend out in the woods. This here is what summer is all about!

Our niece is basically the cutest thing on the planet and a major source of entertainment for us all. The poor thing promptly received three mosquito bites on her forehead within about eight seconds of being outside, but she didn’t let that shake her delightful attitude one bit!

Ohhh. We ate well. Real well.

We played Mafia around the fire for hours. I learned this game from our friend Jared. Next time you’re in a big group, give it a try, it’s a real hoot.

Last but not least, the traditional group picture. Clearly, we are all made for each other…

And so we plunge into the last month of summer. In the next few weeks there will be time spent at the cabin with my side of the family, a friend’s wedding, backyard parties with friends, and lots and lots of garden-harvesting. Yay August!