Fond du Lac Follies...Tales of sap and snow in Sawyer
It started with a little breeze, then grew into a bigger wind. At first, the snowflakes were small. They just kept coming until we had a genuine blizzard in April. My little village of Sawyer was mentioned on the National Weather Channel because of our snowfall amount. I have long suspected that Sawyer sits on a bump on the earth. We got 17 inches one day, then a day or so later got another 19 inches.
But never-the-less, the sugar bush surges on. We were ready on this end, just waiting for the trees to do their part. The crew consists of all family members, including sons Joe and Calvin, daughters-in-law Jackie and Sarah, and nephew Kris. They work well together as they have in years past. My grandchildren will aid in the collecting of the sap. They will help so they will know how to make syrup when it is their turn.
We used a different location in the woods than last year. We move because it gives the trees a chance to rest. All of the crew know to offer asemaa when they tap a tree. It is all a gift from the Gichi-Manido and it comes out of the tree one drop at a time.
In the past month we had prepared for sugar bush by making sure we had enough taps. We usually have to carve 15-20 each spring to make up for the ones that need replacing, the ones we gave away as souvenirs. We get the milk jugs from a local dairy. We use a traditional DeWalt drill to make the half-inch hole in the tree. We also have backup braces and bits in case the electricity fails. We also make sure we have enough buckets and containers to move the sap from the woods to fire pit in the yard.
The firewood is stacked around the pit to act as a windbreak. Last fall I buried my large cast iron kettle until about four inches were sticking out of the ground. When we lifted the kettle out of the ground to the right height for boiling we left behind a kettle sized hole in the ground for the fire pit. Last year we had wound a piece of wire on the chair so we knew where to hook the chain.
We moved the kettle away from the fire pit so we would get a good fire going. First we put three split pieces of wood in the bottom of the fire pit. We laid down a layer of birch bark and started laying kindling across the birch bark. We made another layer of birch bark, another layer of kindling, then birch bark, then kindling until we had a properly laid fire. We lit the bottom layer of birch bark and the fire was lit. We made an offering of asemaa. When the fire was roaring with a good bed of coals we moved the kettle back directly over the fire. We added about five gallons of maple sap to the kettle while making the final adjustments.
As the fire began we built a wall of firewood around the kettle. As the pieces of wall heat up we push them under the kettle. We use stout maple sticks to move the burning firewood. We add more sap until we have about 40 gallons in the kettle.
It doesn't take long before tiny bubbles begin to form around the perimeter of the kettle. The bubbles form faster and pretty soon we have a good rolling boil all around the kettle. We use a piece of raw bacon to keep the sap from boiling over. The sap comes up, touches the bacon and goes back down. As the level goes down we pour the sap through a filter into the kettle. We keep adding sap. We dip a coffee cup into the hot sap, let it cool, and then pass the cup around. Everyone takes a taste and when we have a consensus we remove the kettle from the fire. The hot sap, almost syrup, is ladled into a small kettle and we carefully carry it to the deck for the final boil.
On the deck my wife, Pat, has her stove set up. She lets the hot sap, almost syrup, settle. She filters the hot product through six layers of white dish cloth material. She places the product on top of the fire and boils it down for the final taste test. Finally she cans the jars and sits back and listens to the jars pop. That tells her the jars are sealed. Then she puts the syrup away for the coming year.
Pictures of most of these activities are available on my Facebook wall.
Mii sa iw.
The views expressed in this column belong to the writer alone, they are not meant to represent this newspaper, the Reservation or syrup makers anywhere. Comments and empty syrup jars can be sent to FDL Follies, PO Box 16, Sawyer, MN 55780-0016. Contact Northrup via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.