Chief of Operations writes:

Our style of maple sap evaporator and our technique of drawing off syrup are rapidly becoming obsolete. Open pans, where you can actually see the myriad of bubbles dancing on the boiling sap, and the practice of manually drawing off the finished syrup, are considered “old school” by professional sugarmakers. Not being able to afford an automatic draw-off in my early years, I developed a routine of determining when the syrup was ready to be drawn from the pans using only a scoop and hydrometer. When I bought my first RO (a machine that concentrates sap before boiling) many years ago I was told by the experts it would be unthinkable to attempt drawing syrup when boiling concentrated sap without an automatic draw-off. I proved them wrong.

Over the years numerous people have been our boilers. Thinking back, I marvel at how unique their styles have been.

Lew: He can draw off with the best when he’s focused, but he probably shouldn’t linger at that role for too long as his mind is constantly racing which can lead to erratic results. One day when in the middle of a draw he was distracted by a density problem at the canning counter, and he only came back when his nose told him the syrup was burning in the finish trough, which by then was almost empty.


Audrey: I find her style to be an odd combination of a childlike timidity and the steadfastness of a trooper. She has never been one to conceal emotions; her time at the evaporator interlaces eruptions of relief and joy (when things are running smoothly and the draws are steady), and flares of horror and anger when things go wrong (during a surge or when the sap level float is malfunctioning).



Elyse and Becca: These two both gave the impression of being professional chefs who revel in the challenge and excitement of producing a gourmet product.


Jake: It seemed he was always surrounded by the aura of being a master of the trade. Though he cursed with frustration at times, there was never a doubt he would be able to handle the situation.



Emma and Gabriela: These two were each Miss Calm, Cool & Collected. They could draw for hours on end with the nonchalance of riding a bicycle regardless of the difficulties that came along. Emma set a record (still standing) of twelve perfect draws (filling the pail with syrup that doesn’t need a density correction) in a row. This left Jake a little irritated. He commented that some of those draws probably weren’t as perfect as she thought.


This job isn’t for everyone: It can be monotonous and stressful, and it carries with it a lot of responsibility, as achieving proper density is critical, and the pans can burn in a heartbeat if one loses focus for very long.

Christian: As an ice cream maker and brew master, he is no stranger to producing gourmet food and is always intrigued by the countless variations of flavor that roll off the evaporator. He will take on the chore of drawing at times to fulfill his duty, but he prefers to leave the inferno of the finish trough to others.


Ross: He is also somewhat allergic to this job but will occasionally engage after checking lines in the woods, which is the work he likes best. I have visions of him standing next to the arch at night, framed against the white steam and froth below – a Greek god with chiseled features who could take any blow and still survive.


Ana: Irrepressible, she treated this job like everything else in her life – a means to have fun and lift the spirits of everyone around her. She had a knack for making the demands of this task look easy; she’d drift off into antics like a yoga pose with the hydrometer arching overhead, or looking like Cruella de Vil while puffing on the hydrometer stem. There was never a dull moment with her around.

Robyn: Yesterday was her first day working in the sugarhouse, and after only a few hours there she bravely stepped up to the plate to try drawing. She immediately leaned into the role with such an intense concentration that I momentarily had to catch my breath watching. The focused determination on her face said I will get this right. She proceeded to draw pail after pail in rapid fire through a surge, with the agility of the athlete she is.

There are as many styles to drawing syrup as there are people doing it; witnessing the diversity is a constant source of intrigue. I find myself thankful I was pigheaded enough to never modernize this ritual beside the arch.

Chief of Operations
March 17, 2019

5 thoughts on “The Art of the Draw

  1. Chops, So good that you can appreciate the diverse boiling styles of everyone. Nice essay about the Nebraska Knoll crew. I enjoyed this.

    “A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” — Muslim Origin


  2. Yay for sticking to tradition and principles. You and your team are the best and I only know that through reading your blog down through the years. Sitting in SFO airport for hours and hours makes me grateful for VT, Nebraska Knoll, and the hard work of living in VT.


  3. This is so captures the beauty and drama of making syrup and the characters involved. Characters we love so much!


  4. I love the ending about gratitude for being pigheaded about not modernizing the ritual of drawing. Honoring each character in the art of the draw is so much part of what makes Nebraska Knoll experience and product so unique.


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