When the sap is flowing, one close-knit, creative family comes together in upstate New York to celebrate it. Each winter, they tap, collect, and boil down the precious liquid, then settle in to enjoy the sweetness of their labor.
Pot of Gold
Tapping was the last thing on their minds when the couple moved from Manhattan to the 14-acre property with their three children in 2002. But when a neighbor invited them to a sugaring party, where guests chat and sip hot drinks around a big, bubbling pot of the stuff, they got to see the process firsthand. “The smell was heavenly, and we loved that it was another way of living sustainably,” says Michele, who grows most of the family’s vegetables. She and John soon learned that they had plenty of sugar maples on their property and decided to give it a go.
How to Make Syrup, Step by Step
Michele walks down from the woods, carrying a bucket of sap to be boiled down.
Jack continues the process, consolidating individual pails of it into larger plastic buckets before taking them to the fire pit.
The sap is boiled outdoors on a wood fire for 8 to 12 hours, or until most of the water has evaporated. Additional sap is added to the pot as the liquid reduces. (Then it’s finished indoors on the stove, to better control the temperature over the last half hour of boiling.)
The final elixir is poured into individual 16-ounce glass bottles—“the perfect size for giving to friends,” says Michele.
Lunch in the Studio
John and Michele agree that the family ritual is priceless. Olivia, 23; Jack, 20; and Henry, 18, no longer live at home but often return to lend a hand. This, in turn, gives Michele an excuse to whip up some winter comfort foods, dipping into their stock for any recipe that calls for sweetness. And if the time together is not reward enough, the intense process is “a revelation,” she says. “It changes your relationship to the land and to the seasons.”