Homemade Maple Syrup on Muddy Creek

Perry Piper recalls the hardwork of making homemade maple syrup

| March 1999

It matters little whether it is spelled "syrup" or "sirup," as long as the first name is "maple." This wonderful sweetener has been around at least since colonial days, when John Alden may have collected sugar water, the sap of the maple tree, boiled it to a solid, and presented his lady love with one of nature's most delicious treats. 

On Muddy Creek, there along the slopes of Red Hill, the maples grew in profusion. Red Hill herself, near bald in those days, sported several but scattered groves of maples interspersed with the walnut and burr oak that reached to stately heights there along the Indian Boundary Line.

Few were the woodlots that didn't contain a dozen or more maple trees with their copious whirligig seed pods and their colorful fall foliage. In between, just as the frost was going out in early spring and sap was starting to flow, came sugarin' time.

Old man Catterton may have had many faults, but no one was more knowledgeable of eating out a living from nature than he. His brewed "horse medicine" was widely touted as being a sure cure for whatever might ail "man or beast." In fact, this particular remedy was so popular that some of the menfolk would need to make a half-dozen trips each week up that winding trail to his shack to replenish their supply, even long after the hoss had died or been traded away.

Had the ground hog taken time to look around, that day when he came out to check on his shadow, he would likely have seen the old gentleman with a mud boat pulled by a wretched skin-and-bones mule, all loaded down with a couple of vinegar barrels of collected sugar water. He was headed for his lean-to, where he would boil that sap down into the sweetest and thickest maple syrup I have ever poured over a stack of hotcakes or spread over fluffy soda biscuits fresh from the oven.

If you have ever tried making your own maple syrup, or been around a sugaring operation, you will already know that it takes a heap of boiling to turn that thin, tasteless water into even a gallon of syrup. A foot-thick maple tree will supply about 20 gallons of sap over several weeks. By boiling and boiling, it will end up being less than a half-gallon of finished syrup.