A Chronicle of the Last Day of Boiling:
I’m sitting on a stool by the back pan feeling cozy on a chilly day. Ross is tending the finish trough, Sam is whistling to a silly song playing on the CD, I fell into the sap today….while scraping wood scraps toward the firebox with a shovel,
and Chief of Operations is bent over a gadget to determine the percentage of light transmission of today’s syrup (48% for the syrup in the tank, 51% for the latest draw: the syrup is getting lighter as the boil progresses).
It’s quiet except for the roar of the fire, the roar of the boil, the blower whipping up the fire, the stirring of the wooden paddle in the filter tank, a sneeze. Since it’s the Easter/Passover holiday for many, visitors come and go. They don’t know they have missed the heavenly aroma of earlier boils. Today’s boil offers up whiffs of tootsie-roll and coffee. Our noses tell us it’s time to call it quits. “The buds they pop, they pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop,” the fat lady sings.
LATER…Sam and I just hooked up the hoses and climbed the stairs to the upper tanks. They were empty but coated in a milky slime. I sprayed water while Sam scrubbed with the long-handled brush. To clean the tenacious rim of grunge off the water-slick stainless steel, he scrubbed in rapid circles. “This is curling!” he said and we started shouting the way the curling sweepers do.
Sam noticed the drains were closed. “Uh oh, we just ran all that scuzzy water down into the lower tanks. Haha, we’re just too relaxed since today’s the last boil.”
We tackled these lower tanks with a different hose and a different long-handled brush, remarking that it smelled like a cheese factory, wait, no, it smelled like bread rising. “OK for bread, not so pleasant for sap.”
LATER: I’m back in the sugarhouse tasting the syrup. “Toffee.”
The crew is playing James Taylor.
“What’s the difference between coffee and toffee?” asks Chops.
“Toffee implies butter and caramelized sugar,”says Sam.”Coffee is its own flavor, from coffee trees.”
“What shall we call this?”
“Let’s say it ‘has notes’,” he says, reading from the list of whimsical flavors posted on the side of the filter tank. (A new one this year is ‘provocative but not pretentious’.)
We’re down to fifteen inches of concentrate. A friend is planning to bring over dinner in an hour. Ross is somewhere in the steam on the back side of the arch; he’s very quiet today. Chops is scraping and shoveling wood scraps into the firebox. Sam leaves the day after tomorrow for a summer farm job in British Columbia.
I’m sitting outside now. I can smell wood smoke from the stack. A dead fern sticking out of the stone wall is shaking in the breeze. A week ago there was no stone wall, just a snow bank. Whatever the trees are experiencing, I see that the run has slowed to a trickle, thank goodness. It would be painful to dump a good sap run on the ground.
I’ll head back inside to see how many inches of concentrate we’re down to….down to eight inches: That’s another four or five stokes, then we’ll do the cleanup routine we do after every boil. At this point in the season, it just happens, there’s no thinking.
“Woah!” says Ross, checking the weather on his phone. “It’s going to be 70 the next four days! It’s over.”