Fighting Ice

My vast research for this article (reading a significant portion of the first page that came up in a Google ™ search) suggests that Thomas Jefferson was a great supporter of America becoming sugar independent by producing our own from maple trees. Maple proponents suggested that maple sugar was more easily made than cane sugar, which was out of favor among abolitionists because it was made in the British Caribbean with slave labor. Mr. Jefferson was so convinced that American farms should have a sugar orchard in addition to their apple orchards, that he ordered 60 saplings for his farm at Monticello. They all died. Not one to give up easily, he tried again twice more, with similar results. Poor Thomas.

What was not commonly known then is that maple trees, in order to produce the lovely sap that boils down to sugar, need below freezing nights and above freezing days. The farm at Monticello didn’t have enough freezing nights. He died a broken man (I made that part up, but I can imagine the frustration he must have felt, and it makes a better story.)

ice2Here in the northwestern UP of Michigan, the below freezing nights are seldom a problem. Having some above freezing days is the challenge. We’ve had a couple of pretty good weeks of sap run until recently, when the weather turned very cold. A bucket of sap I’d saved for the next day’s boiling turned to ice, such that, even after quite a bit of effort, there was still a solid cylinder of ice that needed to melt before it could be boiled.

ice1In order to collect the sap that had accumulated in the buckets, I had to turn the them upside down, and pound on the bottom with my mittened fist until the frozen sap water “thunked” down into my gathering pail. I did this until my right hand was too sore to continue. I then walked out and took the rest of the buckets off the trees (I didn’t lose any sap because no sap was running due to the cold) and inverted them, one-by-one, on the evaporator over the hot steam until the ice plug discharged into the pan. That is how I finished gathering.

Last night the temperature dropped into the single digits, and today is not supposed to get above freezing, so it appears we’re getting a well deserved day off today. I’ll always think about Thomas Jefferson’s claim that enough sugar for a family can be “easily made.” Clearly Thomas never had to fight ice to get the sugar he needed for his coffee.

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