The Backyard Sugar Shack

Brent says that maple syrup is God’s first gift to New Englanders for surviving the winter. I think that that’s true. There’s nothing like seeing those first buckets on the tree to cheer your spirit on an early March day. It always puts me in the mood to reread Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson, the same wonderful children’s book that inspired Brent to tap all the trees in his back yard when he was in middle school.

I personally think it’s quite brilliant that you can turn tree sap into sugar, so much so that for Christmas I asked for a big jug of local maple syrup. My dear husband was the only one who really took me seriously. He went above and beyond and bought me a bottle of homemade syrup from his childhood friend Rosann and her husband Mike who are hobby maple sugarers. They both work full-time at other jobs, and collect buckets of sap during the week from their neighbors’ trees and store it in a tank. During sugaring season they boil all weekend, starting as early as 6 a.m. and staying out as late as midnight, in the mini-sugar shack they built in their suburban backyard, which they call The Maple Hut. They tell us that it takes 40 gallons of sap from a Sugar Maple and 70-80 gallons from other Maples to make one gallon of syrup.

A few weekends ago, we were fortunate enough to go and see The Maple Hut in action. Looking only slightly out of place in its suburban neighborhood, the Maple Hut is everything you’d dream of – old fashioned in design, its rough-sided walls are already covered in vintage maple gear, and as we arrived wood smoke and steam were pouring out of the open windows in its vaulted roof, while the knee-weakening smell of syrup filled the air. Inside, the temperature was downright balmy, as Rosann and Mike shared their story, trading off in their narrative as one of them, summoned by their digital timer, stopped every seven minutes to stoke the fire.

Like Brent, Mike had also tapped trees when he was a kid. So a few years ago, when his friend gave him some sap buckets, he decided it would be fun to tap the trees around their house and see if they could boil some syrup in a turkey fryer. By the next year, they had asked a few of their neighbors if they could tap their trees, too, in exchange for some of their finished syrup. They converted a large barrel into a boiler and spent their weekends boiling outside. The next year Mike bought a fantastic early-20th-century evaporator online and Rosann insisted that they would have to build a shed to house it. And it was then that Maple Hut really came into being.

They started tapping more trees on Mike’s parents’ property as well. Since then they’ve been collecting sugaring gear, both vintage and modern, including a rotary bucket washer, a press filter and tools to help them bottle and cap the syrup. They sell several sizes of syrup – all in American-made glass bottles, granulated maple sugar and maple candy. Of course, we went home with another jug and some maple candy for our Easter baskets.

For a hobby, Rosann and Mike certainly work pretty hard, but one taste of their syrup and I think you’ll agree it’s totally worth it. We can only aspire…

Published on Mar 19, 2009

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