Homemade Maple Syrup

My Uncle Martin grew vegetables in the garden behind my grandmother’s house. By mid-summer he would stop by our house every other day with a basket of green beans, a red-ripe tomato, and a dozen ears of fresh-picked corn. He was an engineer by trade, but a man-of-the-land in his heart. So, it came as no surprise one spring when he told us that he had tapped the maple trees on his property and he was making a batch of homemade maple syrup. He was quite proud of himself. In fact, he was so proud of his homemade maple syrup that he invited my family to his house for a pancake dinner.

There were seven people in my uncle’s family and five people in my family, plus my grandmother. In all, there were 13 of us at his house ready to eat pancakes topped with his homemade maple syrup. My mother, my aunt and my grandmother worked as a team cooking 30 to 40 pancakes on all four burners of their stove. Once the pancakes were cooked, they were placed on a platter in the center of the dinner table covered with a pot lid on top to keep them warm. My five cousins, my brother, my sister and I watched the stack of pancakes grow—slowly. We all waited in anticipation.

Before I finish this story, you need to know that in order to make a quart of maple syrup you have to collect over 10-gallons of sap from maple trees. The sap has to be slowly boiled down to a concentrated form. In other words, it takes 40-quarts of sap to make one quart of syrup. Unfortunately, my uncle didn’t collect anywhere near that amount of sap. He probably collected a gallon of sap because all we had was a half-cup of syrup to be shared with 13 people. A half cup. That was a fairly important piece of information to know. And no one told me.

Also, whenever I ate pancakes as a kid, I poured Log Cabin syrup all over them—I mean my pancakes swam in syrup. That’s the way I liked pancakes back then, and that’s the way I eat them to this day. Okay, back to the story.

The pancakes were finally cooked. My mother, aunt and grandmother sat down and we all said grace in unison. My aunt uncovered the pancakes and passed the platter around the table. We each took two or three pancakes and passed the platter to the next person. Next, a plate with a stick of butter was passed around—actually, it was probably a stick of Imperial margarine. Finally, my Uncle Martin’s pride and joy, his homemade maple syrup, was unveiled and passed around. It was presented in a clear-glass Pyrex measuring cup with a spoon. I watched my cousin Walter take the cup and pour one spoonful of syrup over his pancakes. (Apparently he got the memo.) Walter passed the Holy Grail to me.

I promptly removed the spoon and poured the entire half-cup of syrup on my pancakes. Walter gasped. The room went silent. I looked around. Everyone was looking at me. I was still holding the empty cup over my pancakes as my plate was snatched away from me by my mother. The precious syrup was drained from my plate back into the Pyrex measuring cup. My aunt assisted my mother by scraping the syrup back into the cup with a dinner knife. The knife screeched as it scraped my plate. I remember that crumbs from my pancakes fell into the measuring cup.

I could feel my Uncle Martin’s eyes on me.

I looked up at him; he was glaring at me. I looked back down at my scraped plate. My saturated pancakes were all messed up. They looked like they had been attacked with a machete. I was told to eat them, but I wasn’t hungry anymore. Neither was my brother, Terry. Not because he sympathized with me, he didn’t want any hand-me-down gross syrup from my plate on his plate. We were both excused from the table and told to go sit in the living room. The “crumby” syrup was back in the Pyrex cup and passed on as if nothing had happened. My parents and my sister ate their pancakes in silence. Terry and I waited for my parents to finish their meal. No one talked. I was pretty sure I was in a hell of a lot of trouble. The pancake dinner was over fairly quickly and my parents excused themselves.

On our way home, my father chuckled and asked if we wanted a McDonald’s hamburger. He knew we were hungry. Turns out that my father didn’t like dry pancakes and crumby syrup either. My mother started laughing too, and it occurred to me that maybe I would live through the night after all.

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