Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Taste (07/15/10)
TITLE: Sap to Syrup
By Shirley McClay
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I chuckled at her enthusiasm. Ginger’s cheeks were red from the March breezes. It was the thaw we waited for and we were like colts let out to pasture. My eyes flicked to my daughter and some of the freshness of the day curdled inside me. Marianne’s mouth smiled at Ginger’s antics but her eyes… her eyes tore me up inside. They were so full of pain I wondered how she could see out of them. God had been working in her lately and she was fighting Him. I prayed for my girl as she slumped into a nearby chair.
”Gramma, can I taste?” Ginger tried to stand on a bench to peek into the vat Carl was filling from a pipe that ran to the outdoor holding tank. I saw his eyes brighten and knew he was up to no good. I held my tongue and watched.
He grabbed a cup and dipped sap from the first vat. He tipped up the cup, gulped it down, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and winked at Ginger. “Mmm… that’s good stuff. Not sure I want to share, Squirt.”
She folded her arms across her chest and gave him a glare. “Grampa… you hafta share. God says!”
His chest shook in a silent chuckle as one corner of his mouth quirked up. “Well... can’t argue with that. Here ya go.” He dipped out a small amount and handed it to her. Ginger tipped up the cup and took a couple of big swallows. Her eyes widened. “It just tastes like sweet water!”
“It takes a lot of heat to make maple syrup. C’mere.” I lifted Ginger onto my hip. “This is the first vat. It cooks for a while and then it drains into this one. You probably can’t see much change, but look at this fifth one. See how different it is?”
Ginger picked up the tester and watched the sap drip slowly off the end. “It’s thicker… more like the stuff Mom puts on my pancakes. An’ it smells different, too!”
“That’s right, but it’s still not ready.” I took her down to the last vat and dipped out some syrup. “Taste that.”
“You won’t like it, Gingersnap. Remember the taste I gave you.” Carl readjusted his cap and winked at Ginger.
Her chin jutted out, her eyes flared with the same devilment as her grandpa’s. She plunged her finger in the cooled syrup and sniffed it before she touched it to her tongue. “Oh... yummy!”
I put her down as Carl began to fill one of the five gallon pails. I showed her the fire under the vats. “It takes lots of heat and time to turn that watery sap into sweet maple syrup. We have to cook it down until the liquid evaporates and the sugars thicken.”
“Can’t get it too hot, though, or it’ll burn and be ruined.” Marianne chimed in, her face hidden in the shadows. Sure enough, she was identifying with the sap we were heating.
“Trust me. I won’t let it get too hot. Maybe the sap thinks I will, but I know what I’m doing. That silly sap doesn’t have any idea why I’m heating it up or just how sweet it’s going to taste when I’m done.” Ginger giggled at me. “In fact, I bet it would like to climb right out of that vat and head for the trees.” I chuckled at my granddaughter as she rolled her eyes. “Maybe this sap thinks it’s all done, but it needs more cooking time before I’ll set it on my kitchen table. If it sticks…” I wink at her as I wipe her fingers, “around, it’ll be the sweetest you ever tasted.” Ginger giggled again and ran to follow Carl outside.
My breath caught when Marianne moved out of the shadow and wiped the damp smudges off her cheeks. Her grin was weak but I saw it reach her eyes. “I guess I’m done being the sap, Mom.” She stepped into my hug. “Or at least, I’m ready to quit trying to climb out of the heat.”
This year’s winter thaw was a special one.
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