Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maple syrup season with Pat and Fel

I got the call late on monday night. If i was going to catch the maple syrup season with Pat and Fel, I would have to come out tomorrow- it was going to be their last day to collect sap.  The warm temperatures, though greatly loved and appreciated by me,  didn't make for an especially abundant season, so they had decided to wrap things up early this year.
I am a bonafide pancake queen. Ask anyone who eats with me. Maple syrup, the real stuff of coarse, is by all accounts, one of my favorite breakfast foods along with a pancake or two. Never mind the 53 grams of sugar per teaspoon! So, I am tickled beyond belief to have the opportunity to actually experience first hand, the collection of and preparation of this precious ambrosia.

Pat and Fel's place is tucked deep into the woods of Northern Michigan on a parcel of land that has been in Fel's family for at least the last 140 years.  They live in an old farmhouse on an original farmstead with a beautiful weathered barn built by hand from rocks and pine planks. They are "authentic Michigan" in every sense of the word.  Each year they collect sap from maples that dot their farm and boil it down on a large outdoor covered fire pit. This year they even had the help of two neighbor boys, Jacob and Christian.

All of us load up into a pick up truck and drive out to a stand of old maples and quickly and efficiently  collect the sap from bags and buckets hanging throughout the woods. Once the sap is collected into clean white buckets,we make our way back to the farmhouse where the outddor kitchen firepit is located. (it's next to their gothic outhouse and just a spit and a throw from the old cabin that was resurrected on their land.) The smoky fire flavors the air. And I quickly decide that this is the first ingredient, and a precursor to the luscious, woodsy musk of the syrup.  Pat and Fel alternate tending the coals with their buddy Heidi  and the sap boils away until the amber liquid carmelizes. (About 2 days.) There is no mistaking it, it is starting to resemble maple syrup and the boys are slurping up mugs of the sweet stuff.

My experience is complete when Pat offers me a taste of her heady syrup over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Oh my gosh, warm and flavorful, rich and wonderful, michigan maple syrup is nothing short of liquid fulfillment.

You can't buy Pat and Fel's labor of love maple syrup.  But you can find maple syrup made by locals all over our area.  I found some wonderful handmade syrup at the Farmer's Market at the Village Commons this past weekend.  It was made by the Hagers in Williamsburg, Michigan.  

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