Wind from the North, the sap cometh Forth.
Wind from the East, the sap runneth Least.
Wind from the South, there is a Drouth.
Wind from the West, the sap runneth Best .
We have it on good authority that they’ve been making maple syrup in the northwestern Catskills since the Wabanaki spirit Glooscap plucked hairs from the belly of Grandmother Woodchuck and wove them into a magical bag. Dan Finn makes no claim of similar intimacy with the local ground-squirrels. Still, March-in, April-out, you’ll find him at that remote point where the circumference of Bovina bleeds gently into Delhi, sturdily manning the massive old wood-fired boiler in his sap-shed; alchemizing sugar from sap. Like Casey Jones. Steamin’ and a-rollin’.
Whilst the nuances of maple syrup production are delightfully arcane and embroidered with folklore, the basics are pretty straightforward. When the weather starts warming up in Spring (which could be as late as mid-August in Delaware County), sap in maple trees starts running from the roots through the trunk to the branches. During the cusp period when temperatures are above freezing by day but below by night, the sap runs up-and-down like a bellhop in a Paris hotel. Bore a hole into that vertical stream, fashion a little spout, hope something drips from it. Build a fire, reduce what you’ve gathered by boiling. Pour it on your pancakes.
In ages past, maple trunks would be punctured with sharp rocks, the sap channeled to hollowed out logs along conduits forged from birch bark. And though Dan offers us no such aboriginal prowess, he pretty much does things the old way. The boiler’s out back in the old shed, it’s the size of a 1970’s Sedan DeVille and is fired by wood. The sap is trundled down from 200 trees above the farmhouse behind an ancient tractor in giant metal drums. There’s PBR and 90’s music from a battered plastic boombox. Nobody’s reversing any osmosis on Huff Road. But it’s plenty hot in the shed, and Dan’s right there at the helm stoking the beast like Beelzebub pokering sinners in the fiery furnaces of Hell.
Our ramble with Dan has not been exclusively along the path of Moonshine Maple. We used his milk-fed Yorkshire Pork – in many cuts and consistencies – for the 10-Mile Pie, and his Highland Beef for the hand-numbered Steak and Ale Pies. In the days before Horizon Organic spirited all his Jersey milk from the hills and hollows of Glen Burnie, we’d go over to the farm, drink a beer, sample his artisanal cheeses (‘Danchego’) and listen to vintage Pavement cuts.
Now, along with Moonshine Maple, we carry Dan’s bacon in the microshop and use it in the bacony version of the Egg In A Nest. We’re also employing Moonshine’s more delicate sibling – maple sap itself – as the basis of one of our house-made sodas. Filtered and pasteurized, we carbonate it and pour it over ice. Sap, ice and a little Wind from the West. As elemental as can be.