There are many people in the world who grow up never knowing their father, or never understand what he does and who he is. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a family where my dad was not only present, but where I was able to participate in his business.
He produces maple syrup and has been doing so since his grandfather taught him the craft as a young child. There is a small, run down sugar shack behind the Methodist Church in Poolville that my dad built as a teenager for his first large scale production. The sugar house behind my house is much bigger than this first sugar shack but the memories are just as dear.
My experience growing up involved going to the woods with my dad and siblings to tap trees, collect sap and do small tasks in the sugar house while he boiled. I remember tasting the sap – clear and slightly sweet with only a small percentage of sugar content. In contrast, the syrup has a golden amber color that mirrors its sweet, deep flavor. Many of my favorite memories revolve around the neighbors, friends and families that would come visit and help during sugar season. There would be laughter, comradery, teasing and sometimes complaining as everyone worked together in the intense, lengthy process that is maple syrup production.
Often we would celebrate the beginning of the season with pancakes, usually in the afternoon after many hours of work. My mom would make pancakes, eggs and sausage for the all of the people who were in the sugar house. I would eat until I couldn’t eat any more and then, as stealthily as I could, run my finger over my plate so I could taste every last drop of the syrup.
People who buy maple syrup in the store or use artificial syrup (yes, I’m judging you) may not know how much effort goes into producing one gallon of syrup. It take approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That adds up quickly as my dad needs to make enough product for his retail and wholesale clients each year.
Despite the hard work, maple syrup production is something that my dad loves and will never give up. It represents a legacy, tradition and regional heritage that he is proud of. First begun by Native Americans who lived in the region, maple syrup production is one of the few industries that manages to be innovative but stays true to an unchanging, age-old process. It is a lifelong endeavor for my dad, and will always be a part of his identity. I feel so lucky that he has been able to share it with me and my siblings.
Gillette’s Maple Products is located at 125 County Road 20, Sherburne. Call 674-4026 for more details or to place an order.