A version of this post appeared on Eating Well Magazine’s website
There’s an old Vermonter’s adage that you plant seeds on Town Meeting Day. It’s a big day: not only do we practice direct democracy here (we’ve dragged our kids to Town Meeting since they were little so they could grow up seeing democracy in action), but it’s generally the day the sugar makers hang buckets on the trees (they’ve already had a couple of runs through the tubing). It is also when, in Middlebury, we take the Christmas Wreath off the front door.
The sap is rising. And now there are lots of green shoots under my growing lights.
Spring teases us right now, as is her wont in March. Some days we let the wood stove go out. Other mornings, there are snow flurries, and the mercury goes back below freezing, so we re-light the stove. We spent Friday biking in 60 degree sun, but then spent the weekend under snow flurries, with our friend sugar maker Kenn Hastings, and his wife Val, at Bread Loaf View Farm in Cornwall, Vermont, as he boiled sap.
Kenn started making sugar when he was in tenth grade at Middlebury Union High School. And he’s got the sugar making “bug”. “Though it’s not a bug,” he says, ” it is more a personality type that allows the bug to enter your psyche. Like the rising of the sap in the trees, the desire to sugar thaws within the true sugar maker when the spring breezes blow.”
Val commented about how much work it is when “the rhythm changes from winter life to sugaring time. It takes over our lives for six weeks.”
It’s exactly this transition of season, the rhythm change, that I am grateful for, along with the joy that the seeds I have planted are coming up. Meanwhile at the sugar house, the steam is rushing aloft. Kenn is tinkering with the evaporator, watching and measuring, always in motion, always thinking.
I feel the change all around outside: the rushing water, the streams of geese overhead, the twelve hours of day light that trigger something in the trees, the roadside ditches overflowing with snow melt, the fields that resemble shallow lakes. Otter Creek gently slides over its banks to make sanctuaries for migrating waterfowl.
Maple sugar might be the sweet core of mud season, along with the shoots of green under my grow lights. Here’s what’s up this morning: Artichoke, Fennel, Radicchio, Bok Choi, English Lavender, Lavender Lady, French Rosemary, Sweet Marjoram, German Chamomile, Hyssop, Sage, Calendula, Tarragon.
But there’s still snow outside.