Long Road to the Sugar Shack for Sugar on Snow
by Tricia Knoll
I stop my car in mud ruts from a thaw
after a blizzard. Halfway to the shack
where white vapor will be the happiest sight
in Vermont in late March, last night’s
snowfall droops heavy limbs.
The sun, our star of white on white,
glares full strength in up-above blue. Alone
on a road within this snow lattice I wonder
how soon it falls to pieces.
At the end of the road, a young boy
stands in a blue parka and black boots,
his job to point out where I should park.
I confess. I don’t back up well.
His nod is almost complicit, forgiving.
Maybe he has things he does not do well.
His easiness hints that he is out here for love
of his family’s sugarbush. Sun sparkle on snow.
I say I’ve come to try fresh maple syrup on
shaved ice with a pickle and a doughnut.
My first. He follows me, an old lady
who can’t reverse well and doesn’t know
what’s inside the weathered shack—
perfume of maple and scurried work.
The mother in me tells his brother
how well the boy does as valet.
The sugar season treat is sweet
and sour, sticky and wet. Thumbs up
to my watcher. He vanishes
to give more directions
and waves me out as I lurch back
down his road with one bottle of Amber A
just-rendered syrup, yesterday’s sap.
Whatever thought I had of snow marvels
melting nothing has. Yet. My way back
is as fragile and elegant as the way in,
laced with that boy’s sweetness
and white drizzled on naked woods.
First published in Verse Virtual, March 2020
PHOTO: Maple trees with buckets collecting sap in Vermont. Photo by James Boardman, used by permission.
NOTE: Maple syrup is made from the sap of various species of maple trees. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before winter; the starch is converted to sugar that rises in the sap in late winter and early spring. Maple trees are tapped by drilling holes into their trunks and collecting the sap, which is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. Most trees can produce 5 to 15 gallons of sap per season. Maple syrup was first made and used by the indigenous peoples of North America, and the practice was adopted by European settlers. Maples are usually tapped beginning at 30 to 40 years of age. Each tree can support between one and three taps, depending on its trunk diameter. Seasons last for four to eight weeks, depending on the weather. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are over 100 years old. From 20 to 60 gallons of sap are required to produce one gallon of finished syrup, depending on the sap sugar content.
PHOTO: The Sugar Shack in Arlington, Vermont, where the author enjoyed Sugar on Snow.
From 1939 issue of Yankee Magazine:
MAPLE SYRUP ON SNOW RECIPE
1. Have ready a pan of hard packed snow ready. A pie pan or dish works well here. Keep the pan outside to keep cold while you prepare the syrup.
2. Boil 1/2 cup of pure maple syrup until it reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer (the soft-ball stage).
3. Remove the syrup from the heat and immediate drizzle it over the packed snow. Be careful — the syrup will be very hot. Allow it to cool for a moment, and then enjoy!
Serve with doughnuts and pickles. The doughnuts may be used for dunking in coffee, and the pickles are eaten to overcome the sweet taste so that one may begin all over again.
Watch a video about this regional treat at foodnetwork.com.
PHOTO: Sugar on Snow, consisting of snow (or shaved ice), thickened maple syrup, dill pickle, and yeast donut.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tricia Knoll is a Vermont poet who like many Vermonters finds winter to be very long, maybe too long—until the sugar shacks start boiling down maple sap and the steam flies out the roof as a kind of promise that spring will come. She has several poetry collections that qualify as eco-poetry with descriptions at her website triciaknoll.com. Her poetry collections include Urban Wild (human interactions with wildlife in urban habitat), Ocean’s Laughter (change over time in Manzanita, Oregon), Broadfork Farm (the people and creatures of a small organic farm in Trout Lake, Washington), and How I Learned To Be White which received the 2018 Indie Book Award for Motivational Poetry. Read more of her work at triciaknoll.com. Find her on Amazon and Twitter.