A year ago today I had to pleasure to visit my very first sugar camp. A quaint, fire-warmed shack on the highlands of Grant County was everything I imagined for maple syrup making. The day was snowy which is exactly what you’d expect. The freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw of the weather is what makes the trees run.
We started the day by visiting the trees. Not far from the shack stand a large grove of maple trees. While you may imagine tin buckets nailed to the trees, tree water bags are the new age way of maple making. These tree bags can hold several gallons each and will be poured into a portable tank before they arrive at the sugar shack.
Once we retrieved a new water load from the trees, we transported it back to the sugar shack and added it to the large tank. Back inside, we observed the boiling process. We stoked the fire, added wood, and watched the light brown water turn to the rich maple color we love to see as syrup. The steam and the heat kept us warm on a cold, snowy day while we chatted and waited to try our hand at bottling.
The shack smelled like sweet maple and its warmth was the best place to be on a waning winter day. Once the water bubbled and churned and turned to syrup, the spigot was turned and warm maple syrup flowed out into small metal tanks. We tried our had at bottling the syrup right inside the camp. It was a warming feeling to drain the hot liquid into the clear maple glass bottles and jugs you see on the shelves.
Last step was to seal the lids. Maple production is hard work! Like any farm work it requires constant checking, lifting, new and updated equipment, and elbow grease. After the full tour, I was delighted to get a small jug to take home. Good maple syrup is worth its weight in gold. If you can buy local, please do. West Virginia maple syrup is certainly the best in my opinion, but I may be a little biased.