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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Maple Syrup Sound Portrait

Air Date: Week of

Producer Kim Motylewski visits a sugar shack in Natick, Massachusetts and comes back with the sweet sounds that flow from the art of making maple syrup.


CURWOOD: In maple syrup country, this is the sound of sweetness. Raw maple sap dripping into metal buckets. The warming daytime temperatures are drawing the sap up the tree now.


CURWOOD: In the sugar house, patient cooks turn the clear, thin-as-water sap into thick amber syrup. Linda Simpkis is one of the thousands of boilers who practice this rite of spring. She runs Natick Community Organic Farm, about 20 miles from Boston.

(A cock crows)

CURWOOD: Outside the farm's simple wooden shed, steam rises from a vented roof. Inside the air is moist with sweet maple. Can you smell it? Well, at least you can hear it, thanks to producer Kim Motylewski, who takes us on an audio tour of a sugar shack in action.

(Scooping, steaming)

SIMPKIS: What we're doing here is making maple syrup, and to make maple syrup you have to boil it and boil it and boil it, until you take out 39 gallons of water in the form of steam, to make 1 gallon of syrup.


SIMPKIS: The evaporator pan is 30 inches wide and 8 feet long, divided in half by 2 pans. Each of the two pans is divided into 4 aisles, connected by little trap doors. And as the raw sap runs in, each aisle is consecutively more dense. Right now it looks like huge white boil on the back pan, almost going over the edge. That's what you want on a minute-by-minute basis is this kind of boil, because that's when most of your evaporation's going to take place.


SIMPKIS: So I know when to stoke when I see those bubbles starting to diminish, and raw sap coming in. Then I have to stoke the fire, which is roughly every 10 to 15 minutes.

(Hinges creak; shoveling; flames spit; the door shuts)

SIMPKIS: You know, I see people who have lived in New England their whole life and have never seen maple syrup being made. I mean, this is just such a New England thing, that it just aches at me. That this is, this tradition is lost, and kids have no idea how this works.


SIMPKIS: I'm going to flip up these filters here so that they drain before the next draw. And drawing is what they call pulling the syrup off. Hear it drip into the filter?


SIMPKIS: So what I'm going to do now is start testing it with this hydrometer. A hydrometer tests density, or thickness.


SIMPKIS: And I'm going to fill this cup, this graduated cylinder cup, with syrup. And the hydrometer will bob up and down and tell me when syrup is ready. Just about. I need to go one more digit. And so what I do is, this is when you don't leave your pan, and you sit here. And you stir.


SIMPKIS: Syrup sugar maple trees only grow in a very, very small geographical area. And the sugar trees that we are getting our syrup from are reaching their maximum age of 200 to 225 years old, which is what is natural here from the Colonial days. It behooves all of us to plant sugar maple trees, because I can't tap a sugar maple tree till it's 40 years old. So anybody who has any space, any school yards, let's plant sugar maple trees.

(Stirring, shoveling)

SIMPKIS: Fill this up again. Okay. There she is. I would say that's ready. So we're going to open up this spigot.


SIMPKIS: And we're going to pull out the syrup.

(Spilling and scraping)

SIMPKIS: (Laughs) Ta da! And stump the fire.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our sound portrait of a sugar shack was produced by Kim Motylewski. Do you have stories that mark the changing of the seasons? We'd like to hear about them. Call producer Jim Metzner toll free at 877-785- 7399. That's 877-785-7399, for your stories of seasonal change.



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