The maple syrup season is upon us, although judging by the buds popping on our maples, it’s probably winding down.

It’s been a few years since my wife Sherry and I have made syrup. We started with a few spiles and pails but grew tired of having to strain out bark, sticks and sometimes bugs during the warm-ups.

We graduated to smaller spiles and sap bags, which proved to be a little more efficient, especially when we had to walk quite a ways to collect the sap. One weekend we collected more than 50 gallons of sap. After it was cooked down, we ended up with about 156 ounces of syrup — a gallon and three cups — that was filtered and stored in canning jars.

Our cooking down process took place over a wood-fired stove. It’s an old Riteway wood stove that was once in my parent’s basement. We used it to help heat an old farmhouse for a few years.

The stove has a flat surface that holds two roasting pans, which we fill with sap and continue to refill as it evaporates. When the sap has thickened enough, we bring it inside the house for the finishing process.

The stove is hooked up to an old chimney in our garage, but the first year we made syrup I erected a canopy over top of the stove in front of the barn. I fired up the stove and put some sap in the pan.

Dad came out to observe and we settled into a couple of lawn chairs. It was cozy next to the stove. I fetched a couple of beers and some peanuts. Dad and I sat and shot the breeze.

Sherry came out and asked what we were doing. “Watching the sap boil,” I told her, which was sort-of the truth. “I don’t want it to burn.”

I was informed that it would be hours before the sap was in any danger of burning and like in nearly all things, she was right. But at that moment it was a chance to kick back and enjoy some Dad time.

I don’t remember what we talked about. Sports, news, politics, the weather … it really doesn’t matter. It was just a time to enjoy each other’s company as the icy winter melted away and the scent of spring in the air.

I know now how precious Dad time is. Shooting the bull with Dad is now pretty much a one-sided conversation as he doesn’t talk much anymore. Any recollection he has of that day is lost in his fading memory. 

I wish I could fire up the old wood stove, grab a couple of beers and watch sap boil with Dad just one more time.

gathering sap
Chris Hardie gathers sap from a maple tree.