Pure Maple Syrup Takes Me Back to the Farm

New England maple syrup is a sweet natural treat. Maple sap is 97% water and it takes a long time to evaporate all that moisture away to thicken the 3% sugary content.

I hold childhood memories of watching my uncle boil gallons of sap in a wide metal pan braced atop a stone wall for hours. He stoked the fire underneath with birch, apple, and oak to keep the pan at a rolling boil to speed the process. As a young boy, I didn’t understand what he was doing. All I saw was a clear boiling liquid with a lot of steam rising out of it. It seemed to have no purpose.

Hours passed and finally the liquid thickened and began to change color. My uncle tilted the pan and drained the hot, sticky, sweet fluid into an open cooking pot. He took that to the kitchen stove and continued boiling it down until it reached the desired color. By now, the sweet aroma filled the kitchen and made my mouth water in anticipation.

Mom had a plate stacked high with pancakes just waiting for the fresh syrup. I took two, put a dollop of homemade farm butter on them and held my plate to my uncle for him to drizzle on the syrup. It was the best of times.


Tell us about a sensation — a taste, a smell, a piece of music — that transports you back to childhood.

Getting a State Trooper’s Attention

The scene could have been on a postcard. The red barn crested the top of the green pasture with the fifty foot high white concrete block silo in the center. The view stunned drivers as they drove up the country road. Cars emerged from the cover of the trees into an open space where the sunlight and low stone wall provided an image many stopped to capture on film.

The four teenage farm boys decided to have some fun. They constructed a dummy from an old pair of jeans, flannel shirt, bleach bottle, and straw hat. Filled with hay and tied together with twine, it looked like a lazy man napping in the sun. Too boring. They needed more action.

One of the brothers suggested using the silo. They would hoist the dummy on a rope and drop it as cars made it to the viewing point. The others agreed and put the plan in action. One got the twine rope they had made. At over 200 feet long, it was more than enough.

Next, they argued over who would take the rope up through the pulley at the top of the silo. The ladder started ten feet off the ground and the safety cage stopped a few feet from the top. One brother grabbed the end of the twine rope, looped it through his belt loop, and started climbing the steel cables that encircled the silo. He quickly reached the bottom rung of the ladder and scampered to the top.

A few moments passed where the rope was run through the pulley and sent back to the ground before he climbed down. He dropped the final ten feet onto the soft grass. His brothers had already looped and tied the rope around the dummy and three of them began raising it up the tower.

One brother took a lookout position near the stone wall and listened for approaching cars. The others held the rope and partially hid around the curve of the silo wall. A car approached from the road below.

“Now!” the lookout shouted.

The brothers released the rope and the man-sized dummy fell. The timing was perfect and the image shocking. The approaching car screeched as the driver slammed on the brakes having witnessed what they clearly thought was a dangerous or even deadly fall for a man.

The boys burst out from their positions to check the damage to the dummy. They pointed and laughed at the stunned driver stopped at the lower pasture wall. The driver realized the prank and slowly drove up the road. He frowned and shook his head as he passed the boys. They laughed even harder.

The boys reset the dummy and waited for more cars. They made several successful drops and took turns being the lookout or the one releasing the rope. It was late afternoon and people drove home past the farm after their day at work.

The dummy was ready again and the lookout signaled the approach of another car. The brothers were ready.

“Now!” the lookout shouted.

“Screech!” went the car’s brakes and then, a siren and sudden acceleration rapidly followed.

“State Trooper!” the lookout shouted but his brothers didn’t hear him.

They came out as before, laughing and pointing at the driver ignoring his identity. The trooper did not glance over at the boys as he passed but accelerated directly to the gravel driveway where he braked hard and spun into the turn. He grabbed his door handle and prepared to jump out and assist the “injured man” when he saw the laughing boys preparing to raise the dummy again.

He stopped, sat back in his seat, and closed the car door. He shook his head and pointed at the boys to let them know he’d be watching them in the future. He turned around in the large driveway and slowly drove off up the road.

The boys did a few more drops that day, but none equaled the excitement of gaining Trooper Joe’s attention. From that day forward, each time he drove past the farm, he waved at us.


Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

Little Green Apples (100th Post)

Apples are great. Whether eaten fresh and raw or baked in one of many delicious ways, they satisfy like no other fruit. With just a little garnish of butter, cinnamon, and sugar they burst with flavor in your pie, cobbler, or tart. Apple fritters, pancakes, applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly are all welcome at my breakfast table.

Early fruit that falls from the tree also makes excellent ammunition among brothers. Little green apples and bored farm boys make for an exciting combination. I seem to remember one fine summer day when…


The brothers took turns helping with the evening milking and related barn chores. With a barn population of almost 80 cows, calves, and steers there was plenty to do. One of the tasks was to scrape the walkway outside the barnyard entrance. This concrete extension of the barn foundation provided a transition from the dirt, mud, and muck of the barnyard into the barn. Each evening the returning herd tracked goop onto the concrete on their way inside. At almost 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, it took several passes with the bladed scraper to clear the muck off.

This day, our eldest brother had the chores. The warm summer day had encouraged him to remove his shirt. He labored in boots and jeans only. We others had gathered loads of little green apples and brought them to the fence at the far side of the barnyard. The distance was about 120 feet and the target was a moving one.

We started slowly, taking turns with our throws. At first we deliberately missed. The intent was to scare him into a reaction, not cause injury. After several near misses we refined our tactics and aimed to bracket him in front and back as he moved. He ducked and arched his back to dodge our missiles. They shattered against the red-painted boards of the barn near him.

He tried to sprint with the scraper, stubbornly determined to finish his assigned chore before retreating inside the barn. The friction against the concrete and the growing pile of muck hindered his progress. He turned and ran to the left end of the platform. Once there, he started another pass and we began another volley.

He moved in spurts attempting to confuse our timing. It backfired on him. One apple intended to pass behind him grazed his back as he suddenly stopped in place. He lunged forward and the next apple, already thrown, smacked him hard in the rib cage.

The impact could be heard across the barnyard. We froze as he dropped the scraper handle on the walk. He pressed his hand hard on the injury and looked at us in rage. He ran straight across the muddy barnyard at us. We scattered by instinct, but he was locked onto the one who threw the offending apple.

No matter how much I dodged and ran, he lurched at me with a single purpose, to share the pain.
Game over.

The Outdoor Christmas Tree

In two earlier posts I shared the contrast between the his and her family tree traditions.

http://pepperconnection.com/348/decorating-the-tree-his-way/

http://pepperconnection.com/356/decorating-the-tree-her-way/

My siblings quickly piled on about my lack of attention given to our outside tree.

Christmas decorations at the farm were plentiful. Wreaths, garlands, lights, sprays, and the living room tree all brightened the inside. Visitors could not escape the pungent odor of pine. At least during December we had pine to offset the barnyard smell of our sweatshirts, jackets, and work boots as we entered through the mud room.

If you read my earlier post, Decorating the Tree-His Way, you experienced our struggle in making the chosen tree fit in the living room well enough to receive decorations. Some years, that indoor tree was the second trip to the woods. The first one was usually too large or lopsided to have any chance of indoor success.

Perhaps it suffered during the long drag home through cow patties on the lane. Or maybe it held live animals that hid in terror the whole time we chopped it down, dragged it home, and stood it up outside the back door. The critters were often revealed by the dog’s constant barking or several cats showing persistent interest that made us suspicious and look deeper.

Whatever the reason, the doomed tree failed even our pathetic criteria for inside use. It was granted prominent status on the front lawn and adorned with strings of colored lights in an attempt to give it the illusion of a conical shape. In daylight it fooled no one. At night, with an absence of other illumination, the colored lights pulled off a passable job.

Another benefit was that it provided a lit marker of our front lawn. The farmhouse sat on a roadside curve. The long straightaway that approached from uphill made it appear the house sat in the center of the road. Tire tracks on our lawn and a few busted mailbox posts attested to the several errors drivers made on the turn. During December, we had the added safety buffer of a lit tree in the yard that stood farther in front of the house that helped indicate drivers should turn sooner.

O Christmas Tree, we thank thee for being our roadside marker.

Hayride Gone Wrong

Celeste giggled as she chewed a piece of grass taken from the hay bale she sat on. The hay wagon bounced its way down the road pulled by the powerful green Oliver 1650 tractor. We loved bringing in a load of hay. It was the best reward to follow the hard work of throwing the heavy bales on the wagon, the careful stacking to fit a full load and not lose any on the way home. The ride on top of the load was our favorite part of the job. It was a ride no carnival or parade could match. The summer sun tanned your back while a cooling breeze in your face wiped the sweat away. The view of the countryside from thirty feet up on a moving stack of bundled grass made the work seem worthwhile. Continue reading