Maple Syrup Time: A Visit to the Sugar Shack

By Paula McIntyre

Monday, March 11, 2013

My brother-in-law Dennis, aka Denny, started making maple syrup more than 30 years ago on his family's property south of Traverse City.

Each year, throughout the year, he shares the results of his hard labor with grateful family and friends. We find a jar tucked into Christmas packages, or handed to us as we leave their house.

Last weekend, with the sap running and Denny's sugar shack in action, some friends and family took a tour of his operation. We were reminded of just how much work goes into producing those jars of sweetener we so enjoy.

As we were walking up the hill after the tour, our friend Jim said, "I'm returning the maple syrup they just gave me." When we asked why, he said, "I'm not worthy."

We laughed, but then renewed our vow to always lick the plate after our morning pancakes, and to use hot water to rinse out and drink that last bit of syrup from a jar. After seeing the effort that goes into producing it, and the generosity with which it is shared, it would be wrong to waste a single drop.

Tapping Trees

Each year Denny taps between 100 and 200 trees (he's lost count), rigging up lines that carry the sap from each tree to a single collection point. If you look closely at the first two pictures below, you can see the green line snaking throughout the trees.

Maples tapped

Gravity pulls the sap down through the lines to the lowest spot in the woods, where it drips into a big can. Look closely at the picture below and you'll see it, literally, dripping. This process is such a contrast to the pace at which many of us find ourselves, as we rush through our day.

When the can gets full, Denny carries the sap to the sugar shack to boil it down.

Sap lines

Prepping for the boil

Denny fuels the wood stove in the sugar shack with old pallets. Here he is showing Jim how he breaks them apart, using a heavy metal rod to pop the boards off. He then pounds down the nails so they don't take up space when stacking the boards.

Splitting Pallets

The Sugar Shack

The center of the operation is the sugar shack. Measuring 20' x 8', the shack is made from pallets and other recycled materials, including a window that lived a previous life in a Pullman car. Denny rigged a roof vent that he can open by adjusting a long wooden handle to let out the steam and smoke.

Denny's Sugar Shack

With the wood stove loaded and the first batch of sap on the stove, Denny waits for the boil.

Inside the sugar shack

The wood from the pallets is stacked nearby so Denny can keep the fire hot.

Feeding the wood stove

While we wait, Denny points out the redneck decor, including the toilet lid and a broken red phone hanging on the wall.

"The sugar shack is a perfect prop for the Red Green Show," he says, eyes twinkling. "I'd be willing to sell it to them if they ever need one."

Come to think of it, the show should contact him if they ever need a guest host. He'd fit right in.

Wild Denny

Learn more about Denny and his maple syrup in Musings of a Maple Syrup Hobbyist.

Filed under Heritage Foods



Monday, March 11, 2013

Love this! We're all out of syrup in our house and eagerly awaiting our first delivery from our friend Tom. I watched the whole process last year for the first time and can echo the idea of "We're not worthy." Thanks for a wonderful tribute to a springtime tradition and for the good reminder to savor every drop!

(And also, Denny seems like a hoot!)

Mary Ann

Monday, March 11, 2013

Love, love, love the pictures and wonderful commentary. Denny IS a hoot and they are a generous, good people. Best maple syrup ever!

Lisa Vorce

Monday, March 11, 2013

Uncle Denny was a great role model for me and my brother growing up. Always there and did stuff with us. I remember building this very same sugar shack many years ago. Keep up the good work Uncle Dennis. You're a great man. smile

Jo Ann

Monday, March 11, 2013

I have been the lucky recipient of the amber gold! My 3 grandsons who visited this summer couldn't get enough, "it is the best ever". Nice piece Paula, and a good tribute to our hard working friend, who probably considers this a labor of love.