According to Papa Claude, I’m a 5th generation maple syrup farmer on the Turner side of the family. If ancestry.com is any indication there might be some validity to this seeing as we settled in the St. Lawrence River. Today, Quebec is responsible for 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup production. The history of sugaring goes back to the indigenous peoples of North America and the practice was adopted by my ancestors. During the spring thaw, the maple trees draw sap up from their roots until the trees begin to bud. Typically, we have about 4-5 weeks to capitalize on this process. You need the nights to be freezing and the days to be above freezing to maximize the harvest. You can taste when the sap becomes bitter and the leaves bud—this indicates the season is over.
Over the years, maple syrup production has gone to new heights with the introduction of vacuum systems and reverse osmosis to expedite the evaporation process. As a kid, we used to hang the tin buckets on the trees, and it always brought me so much joy to find a bucket that was overflowing with sap. Now that we’ve adopted the plastic tubing system, much of the joy in the hunt has been eliminated. Nonetheless, it’s an experience of a lifetime to draw from trees and boil over an Adirondack fire. The smell of a sugar shack is forever ingrained in my mind as a place of sweet joy and plenty of laughter. Every time we open the valve and watch the sweet finished product pour from the tap through the final filtration system (informally known as “a draw”), it’s a Turner tradition to take a shot of brandy, which can get quite sloppy if we’re having a good day.
Today’s operation is very archaic as compared to modern industrialized practices, so it requires a lot of patience. This is part of the beauty. For our family, it was never about making money even though many refer to the sweet nectar as “liquid gold.” It carries a different meaning. Sugaring for our family is a way of life—it’s a time each year we can all come together to donate our time and energy towards the production of maple syrup. We bond, laugh and tease each other as we go about cutting wood, tapping trees, collecting sap and bottling syrup.
I’m proud that I was able to come back home and help Andrew carry on the tradition which has been such a big part of my upbringing. My Taft friends probably recall me lugging in my own maple syrup to the dining halls because I’ve always refused to ingest Aunt Jemima’s. I got teased for it, but let’s be honest, that stuff is poison.