This winter has has plenty of yo=yo temperature type days, and more of those type days are need for people who make maple syrup.
There still are folks who make maple syrup. Mostly, they do it for their own fun and enjoyment. And their syrup product is tasty, a sign of spring, and a lot of work.
Maple syrup time when the wonderful aroma of cooking syrup wafts its way down the valleys from sugar camp hills.
Making maple syrup is almost a lost art. Most people who make the sweet, tasty syrup in this part of the country do it for the enjoyment and make enough to earn a few bucks and provide a supply for family and friends.
The Ohio River Valley is in the southern range of maple syrup country. North central Indiana and Ohio produces more syrup than this area, and Vermont claims to be the maple syrup capital of the country.
Indiana has a Indiana Maple Syrup Association, and has several syrup festivals and producers. The largest Hoosier festival is in Parke County and is scheduled this year Feb. 27-28, and March 5-6. The headquarters is at the fairgrounds on the north side of Rockville.
Maple syrup is a sure sign spring is just around the corner. It takes freezing night time temperatures, followed by days consistently above freezing to get the maple sap “running”. If the temperature remains below or above freezing, the sap doesn’t run.
Bob Thomas of Derby started his syrup collection early this year. He has collected syrup for the past 20 years, and now is involving his sons to carry on the tradition.
The sap must be collected from hard maple trees. It usually is collected in buckets and then transported to a central cooking location. Some larger commercial operations utilize plastic tubing and let gravity flow the syrup to collection points.
Further north where the temperature differences in late February and early March are more dramatic, it takes less sugar water to make syrup. Either place it is hard work. On average, it takes about 40 gallons of collected water to produce a cooked down gallon of syrup. My friend Doyle Coultas, who used to cook syrup in Perry County of Southern Indiana,, says it usually takes nearly 50 gallons in this area to produce a gallon of syrup. In some northern climates, 30 gallons of water will do the trick.
After the water is collected, it is cooked in a flat pan over a wood fire. It takes a lot of cooking--hours of cooking, giving syrup makers plenty of time for story swapping. And the warmth of the fire and wonderful maple smell of the bubbling water is a delight, especially on a cold, late winter day.
The origin of maple syrup making goes back to the Indians before the white man came here from Europe. According to one legend, it was started by accident by the wife of an Iroquois chief named Woksis.
The chief came in from a hard day hunting in the woods during early March and stuck his tomahawk in a maple tree. The next day, when he went out hunting again, he pulled the tomahawk from the tree, leaving a gash.
Late in the day, his wife needed water to cook the chief’s dinner. When she went out to get a pot for water, she noticed that it was sitting by accident under the gash Woksis left in the tree and had nearly filled with maple water. Rather than making a trip to the creek, she just used the water in the pot.
When Woksis returned home he could smell the pleasant aroma from the water that by that time had cooked down into tasty syrup. He liked what his wife had cooked, and maple syrup became an Indian treat. Well, so goes the Indian tale.
If you haven’t visited a maple camp, it is worth a trip. Some sell their syrup and they might even offer a cup of sassafras tea. You can check with your local county agent or visitor bureau to see if there is one in the area that welcomes visitors.
If you have a coin in your pocket, you have a predictor of spring about the equal of the groundhog, which is looked upon for a forecast each Feb. 2.
Around my place Feb. 2 is a special day. It’s the day Punxsutawney Phil and his pals are pulled from their den to determine if they see their shadow, and it’s also my wife, Phyllis’ birthday.
It’s interesting both the famous weather forecaster and the Mrs. are both named Phil. And since the two events the Phiis celebrate coincide, I don’t forget the birthday.
If the Phil’s see their shadows, legend says there will be six more weeks of winter prior to the arrivals of spring. If no shadow is seen, supposedly the weather will moderate sooner and spring will arrive earlier.
Most weather pros says history indicates it probably will be about six weeks until improved weather for fishing and enjoying time outdoors arrives whether or not shadows are seen.
For the record, not all groundhogs are named Phil and not all are in Pennsylvania.
Some Europeans apparently gave the forecasting job to the bear, but the groundhog seemed more friendly when aroused from a deep winter sleep. Anyway, the job was assigned to a creature that hibernated, and its emergence symbolized the imminent arrival of spring.
Last year, a grumpy groundhog named Jimmy (apparently not happy about being brought from a sleep to forecasting duties), bit the mayor of Sun Prairie, Wis., on the ear.
And, the Sun Prairie saga continues. The ground hog celebration is a big thing in the community. However, Jimmy is gone. Not because he bit the mayor, but because later he chewed his way out of his cage, escaped, and never found.
Sun Prairie hasn’t been able to come up with a new ground hog, but managed to obtain one on loan for this year.
The Germans had considered the badger as their weather prognosticator, but due to a shortage of badgers in the area they settled in the U.S., they assigned the task to the groundhog.
The groundhog also is known as a woodchuck, and in some areas is called a land beaver. It is a member of the rodent family, belonging to a group of large ground squirrels, known as marmots. They are found from Canada to Alabama.
Groundhog day comes at a dismal time of the year when most of us need a reminder that spring will come. After the groundhogs do their thing Feb. 2, and early March rolls around, I always anticipate spring. I get too anxious.
In March, there usually are a few relatively nice days, but they often can be counted on one hand. Usually, it is early April before the weather really starts to significantly improve with crappie action and turkey and mushroom seasons highlighting the month.
However in the meantime, one can take advantage of the few good days if they coincide with personal time available.
Even cold blustery days can be time for sauger and walleye fishing, scouting for spring turkey hunts, looking for shed antlers, and planning spring fishing trips.
Granddaughters Allison and Meredith Fields took advantage of snow to create snow angels.
Winter storm Jonas, who gained the name Snowzilla, caused much hardship for many as it swept across the Midwest to the east coast.
No storm is a good thing, but for some it has it’s good, especially if it drops just a few inches of fresh, white stuff in your area.
Youngsters in particular enjoy snow. It is a time for sleds, building snowmen, playing fox and geese, and making snow ice cream. Snow ice cream is a winter delight forgotten by many, and probably not thought of by many others.
As a youngster, the early clean snow was an event long anticipated. It was fun, but the treat was snow ice cream.
When that first measurable snow came, Mom usually would make a bowl of snow cream. It tasted great, and as I grew older I was able to make the tasty stuff. However, my duties usually related to gathering the white stuff. Someone often chuckled and added, “Don’t get any of the yellow snow.” I may not have been very old, but knew they were telling me to get clean snow and avoid any area the dogs had used as an outdoor restroom.
Most of the recipes for snow ice cream are quite simple, but there are a few variations.
The simplest, and the way I recall making it, requires only four ingredients. That is one cup milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup sugar and four or five cups of clean snow.
Mix together the milk, vanilla, and the sugar. Stir this mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly add the snow to your mixture, stirring constantly, until it is as thick as the ice cream. Enjoy.
Some recipes add one beaten egg. That makes it a bit richer. Some call for separating the white and yellow of the egg, beating, and then adding together. Others even call for cooking the egg mixture a bit. And then some add a dash of salt.
My cousin, Janet wasn’t big on white milk, so she would add other flavorings to the ice cream.
Keeping it simple seemed fine to me.
One of the good things about freezers these days is you can even save some of your snow ice cream and eat it later.
The EPA or some organization probably today says the snow is full of all sorts of toxins, but go for it. Enjoy it. You won’t be eating that much anyway.
Snow and those old memories also brought back the thought on snow angels. I know some kids still make them.
When Snowzilla dropped measurable snow on Nashville, TN, last week, granddaughters Meredith and Allison, took to the snow and created angels. They also made good use of a hill for sledding,and making snow forts.
Unfortunately, some people were stuck in their autos or elsewhere due to the snow, but for kids like Meredith and Allison, the snow was a good thing. And, their black lab, Buddy was white with snow as well.
If you have youngsters around, encourage them to make some snow angels and gather snow for ice cream the next time we have a fresh snow. Take out the camera or these days grab the cell phone, and record some fun memories.
Guess, I’m still a kid at heart. I like snow, and would love a bowl of snow ice cream. And, it still is fun to see youngsters on their sleds, and enjoying making snow angels.