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A six-week family hobby
ROXBURY- Spring is such a magical time of year with the melting of the snow, the budding of the trees, but especially for the Carver family of Roxbury, the running of the sap from the Rock Maples.
Four years ago, Ray and Ann Carver decided they wanted their children to grow up learning how to make maple syrup as Ray had as a child. They also wanted to instill a strong work ethic to ensure their children knew that everything in life came from the result of hard work and dedication.
“We wanted our kids to see firsthand, the educational part of working with the trees, the sap and learn what Ray did as a kid,” noted Ann. “It’s also a great way to get outside in the spring when it’s too muddy to do anything else and we can’t ice fish anymore.”
The family began by investing their time and money in to erecting a sugar shack, saving some money by building a few pieces themselves and seeking out the trees they planned tap.
With more than 100 trees between their property and other family members nearby, as well as another 150-plus between Ray’s brother and a couple friends in Peru; there is no shortage of sap to be boiled down.
As the path to the shack began to get slippery with mud from the foot traffic of visiting friends who wanted to share in the experience of making sugar, Wyatt, the Carver’s seven year old tromped around in a pair of steel-toed boots five times his size. “Want to come see how we bring the sap out of the woods,” he asked.
Following close behind was Emily, the four-year-old sister that had a keen sense of how to get attention from strangers and compete for the spotlight.
The two lead this reporter to the shed where there was a tracked four-wheeler parked with a homemade trailer on back with car wheels mounted underneath, but instead of tires, old snowmobile skis. Wyatt explained how the trailer was built and that his dad “builds a lot of stuff to save money.”
As Ann led the way to one of the tapped trees in the back yard, the kids raced ahead to pull the cover from the bucket and show off what was inside. Emily, with fingers dipped in the clear liquid, had a look of complete mischief on her face. “Mmmmm, good.”
When asked what it tastes like, Wyatt stated, “It’s just like sugar water. It’s pretty good, but not really.”
Both children have their part in collecting the sap, whether it be assisting in driving the four-wheeler to the trees, emptying buckets of sap or preparing wood for the stove, they are involved.
Back at the shack, Ray readied the evaporator to filter some syrup. He noted that they evaporate approximately 20-25 gallons of sap per hour with their set up. (It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup.)
Last year, due to the warm weather in February, Ray and Ann began running sap to the sugar house on February 22 and were done by March 20; producing roughly 20 gallons of maple syrup to share with friends and family.
With temperatures a little more seasonable this year, the first buckets started coming from the woods only on March 12. Depending on the weather, they could see the sap run until mid-April or stop well before then.
As Ray demonstrated how he filters the sugar through a sack, Wyatt tended the fire and Emily entertained other guests that arrived. Ann was cleaning bottles so they would be ready when the filtering and heating of the syrup was finished.
Filtering the syrup, Ray then took a sample from the heated pot and inserted the hydrometer that measures the sugar content. He noted that it should be at 58 percent.
After checking the color of this batch, Ray figured that it was between a Fancy Grade and Grade A, Fancy being the best you can get. And, depending on the time of the season and the type of trees, the darker the samples.
While waiting for the syrup to reach temperature, Ray noted, “It’s pretty neat.” As he pulled out the book that shows everything one could buy for their maple syrup business or hobby, it was staggering the different decorative bottles, labels and accessories the book had. “You name it, they’ve got it for you to buy,” laughed Ray.
With such a small family operation, the Carvers purchased the traditional plastic bottles with screw caps that require the syrup to be heated to 180 degrees to properly seal.
When the syrup was ready for bottling, an automatic assembly line formed between Ann handing clean ones to Wyatt and he, in turn handing them one at a time to Ray for filling and then back to Ann for the caps to be properly attached.
At the end of the day, when all is said and done, Ray and Ann agreed, “We do a lot of back-to-the-basics living. The kids will grow up knowing the value of a dollar through hard work. We want to teach them that it’s always nice to share our way of life with others. Whether friends want to learn the sugaring or not, they are always welcome to stop by and enjoy the fire or our time.”