Spring Senses: The Sound of Sap

sap buckets

photo by Jim Sorbie

Does your favorite sign of spring make a sound? Mine does, and the sound is, “drip tunk, drip tunk, drip splish, drip splash.”

That’s the sound of maple sap hitting the bottom of a sap bucket.

It’s maple season in the North Country of upstate New York. The trees are tapped and the sap is running—it’s a fleeting, special time of year.

We had a sugarbush (that’s North Country talk for a maple syrup production farm) on our farm when I was a kid, so many of my memories revolve around “sugaring down.”

As you may know, it takes something like 40-45 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup. The sap is collected from taps in sugar maple trees and brought to a specially-designed sugarhouse, put in a specially-designed evaporator, and boiled down until it reaches a specially-designed syrupy goodness.

That boiling takes a long time, with a lot of tending of the fire that fuels the evaporator. While this tending needs to be constant, I especially remember my father and grandfather watching the fire in the evenings, after dinner and after all the other farm chores were done.

And I remember myself at 5 or 6 years old, sitting quietly in a dim corner of the warm, steamy, sweet-smelling sugarhouse. I sat and listened to the voices of the men. I could see the glow of lights from the farmhouse where my mother and grandmother worked to clean up from dinner. I can remember feeling so secure; everything was perfect in my world.

Is it any wonder the sound of sap dripping is etched in my memory?



40 thoughts on “Spring Senses: The Sound of Sap

  1. What a lovely memory! I love maple syrup, so it’s fun to hear about how it’s made 🙂 It sounds like you had a wonderful childhood on the farm. I’m so excited that spring is here, everything is a little brighter and lighter! xx

    • The process of making maple syrup is really labor-intensive–it explains why real syrup is so expensive! And, yes, spring seems more exciting this year since the weather was so endless!

  2. Still too cold for the sap to run here, maybe it will start next week when it gets warmer, I love maple syrup ❤

    • It’s a special aspect of life in the northern US. I’ve heard it said that global climate change could bring changes that mean the maples won’t flourish here any longer. I can’t imagine a world with maple syrup and the flaming fall colors . . . .

  3. What an evocative post! And what wonderful memories. A friend of mine, Diana Henry, a food writer wrote a book called ROAST FIGS SUGAR SNOW, in which she writes of her trip to Vermont to watch the tapping of the syrup. I love maple syrup, now I can see why it is so expensive!-Karen.

    • That looks like a wonderful book! Maple syrup IS expensive–I tend to use it where I know the flavor won’t get lost. I make maple caramels that are pretty darn good, if I say it myself!

    • Boo hiss, indeed! Watching the process is interesting–we have maple weekends in upstate New York ad Vermont (and I’m sure in Canada, too) where visitors can go to the sugarbushes and see it all. Some of the farms use all the old techniques and some are more modern (tubing brings the sap to a central point, instead of collecting sap in small buckets, for instance). And there are all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts (my favorite!)

  4. Sounds can be so evocative. A few years back I was making and polishing leather accessories. The sound of the polish brush moving back and forth across the leather took me right back to childhood when my Dad would polish his shoes every morning before going to work…..thanks for your post.

  5. You made me feel like I was there with you.
    And I agree with vintageattitude: It seems like sounds are second only to fragrances when it comes to transporting us in an instant back to a certain place and time. And thank God for that!

  6. I have seen similar buckets in Rhode Island when visiting in-laws in late Winter. We have a couple of local maple syrup producers here near the Shenandoah Valley, though we are bit south for the most reliable weather conditions for collecting the sap. They have converted to using flexible piping systems to capture the sap and direct it to the syrup shack. They still use hardwood fires to boil down the liquid.

  7. I love this! Nothing like the feelings, scents and sounds that remind us of childhood. It’s funny how the smallest thing can bring us back to such a precise time in our lives. Also maple syrup makes me happy in oh-so-many ways! =)

  8. Pingback: Spring Tradition: The Pancake Breakfast | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  9. Pingback: Spring Senses: The Taste of Maple, in a Scone | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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