Sugar on Snow

     Listen closely, and I’ll tell you how to make 54 lbs. of cole slaw.
     It’s sugaring season in Vermont, and all the community groups and churches are holding sugar on snow suppers.
     Sugar on snow suppers, by law, consist of slices of ham rolled up and pinned with toothpicks, beans, deviled eggs, potato salad and cole slaw.
     Maybe it’s not a law, but it might as well be.
     For dessert, there’s the new crop of hot maple syrup, poured on snow. The snow turns the syrup into a chewy ambrosia.
     I helped out at the Grange Saturday morning, and made 54 lbs. of cole slaw. I was probably the youngest of the half dozen volunteers on the early shift. The other guys were 74 and 62. I didn’t ask the women how old they were.
     Most everyone but me was born and grew up in our little town. I got to hear some stories. About sap beer, for instance.
     Maple sap is clear as water, just slightly sweet. To make maple syrup you boil it down 40 to 1 in a sugar house.
     A sugar house is generally an absolute wreck of a little shack in the middle of a field, or at the far side of the field, up against the woods. The sugar shack down the road from us has no walls to speak of, and the roof is collapsed into a big V.     
     They might as well boil the stuff in an open field.
     Dennis remembered the times they used to make sap beer. I said that sounded pretty revolting. He said I was about right.
     Then they got onto tales of bootlegging. Dennis remembered the time he was hauling 100 gallons of moonshine and got stopped by the cops. They didn’t find the whiskey, though. Imagine that: a cop stopping a pickup truck to look for moonshine and missing 100 gallons of it.
     “You’re lucky (Mr. X) didn’t stop you,” Don said.
     “That’s who I was driving it for,” Dennis said.
     Eventually, inevitably, they got onto tales of school days, remembering teachers long dead from half a century ago.
     Everyone agreed that one old history teacher was pretty mean.
     “I didn’t have him,” Don said. “I had Miller.”
     I chipped in from time to time, with tales of bootlegging on the Indian reservation, tales of crazy teachers. They listened politely, but as is often the case in Vermont, they were not so much interested in the topics as in the actual people: who died, whose kids did what, how to deal with so and so’s dogs.
     Next day it got up into the upper 40s and I decided bicycling season had begun. Brrr. First guys I passed on the road was a tractor driven by a kid who might have been 16, with two helpers, about 10 and 12. They were in T-shirts and shorts. The little kids jumped off the tractor when it stopped and ran to the maple trees and dumped the sap buckets into a bigger bucket. The tin sap buckets are covered with little tin hats. The kids lugged the big buckets back to the flatbed behind the tractor and dumped the sap into a big 250-gallon vat, then the big kid drove a little farther down the road.
     I’m being rather broad minded when I say the driver was 16. But I don’t think there’s a cop in Vermont who would stop a farm boy for driving a tractor on the road during sugaring season.
     Down at the Massachusetts state line, the Franklin Farm had posted a sign: “New Crop Maple Syrup.” Oboy oboy, I thought. When I got home I drove back to the farm store and wrote a check for $50 and put it in the basket and took two half-gallons of maple syrup, one for my brother and one for me. Soon as I got into the truck I opened one and tasted it.
     “Oh my God,” I said.
     Back home, every time I passed through the kitchen I tasted it again. “Oh my God,” I said. Every time.
     Yesterday the dogs barked and I went out to see who it was. It was a guy from the Grange. I had won the raffle. He gave me my prize: half a gallon of maple syrup.
     Oboy oboy. (Oh my God.)
     Well, that’s the end of this column. Oh, wait, I was supposed to tell you how to make 54 lbs. of cole slaw. You take about 20 cabbages and … actually, never mind. It’s not important.

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