Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dragonfly Sugarworks

The whisky bottles on my kitchen counter are a happy sight this spring. Jack Daniels has always been Paul Bunyan's favorite party friend, especially when there is a little buddy named Coke who tags along every now and again. But during sugaring season it's all about Jack, and only Jack. It's part of the ritual in the sugarhouse. And there can be no other kind of whisky at this party. Sorry Jameson, sorry Bushmill, sorry Aberlour; you're all nice but you're not welcome at this house. But really, the best part about the whisky bottle is that when it gets emptied in the sugarhouse it comes home with a very similar looking liquid in it...syrup! I think most would take a double take to see my kids taking swigs off the whisky bottle every morning, but it's a pretty common occurance in 'my neck of the woods', especially when my children eat waffles for breakfast every morning. On the other hand, the worst part of the whisky bottle being emptied in the sugarhouse is that I have a stinky, snoring Paul Bunyan sawing logs next to me.

Dragonfly Sugarworks is one of 8 sugarhouses in Huntington. And since Paul, sole proprietor, lives up the road from us, I thought I'd go chat it up with him about his "operation". He and his wife, Jen, and their 3 year old son, Theo, are completely off the grid and are more like real homesteaders than I am, but we all have to start somewhere. Here's what Paul had to say to me:

Why have you chosen this lifestyle? The quality of life is what I was after. It's something I can do to make a living on our land and not commute to a place and sit behind a desk or pound nails all day long.

What's your favorite thing about sugaring? When all the ladies stop by. Giggle giggle. I like the community aspect of it; that there are people who are interested in it and stop by and hang out. You know, it's a very kind of gregarious type of thing. And I have always been fascinated at the fact that we make this stuff out of water from a tree. It never ceases to amaze me.

What's your least favorite thing about sugaring? A tie between the mud and having to get up in the middle of the night to check the equipment.

If you could change one thing about the industry what would it be? The Maple Sugar Makers Association and the Maple Sugar Makers Foundation are both very old school and conservative and really try to downplay the potential artisanal aspects of syrup production and they want to market everything as all the same, it's all good. And it's not all the same, and it's not all good. And that would be what I want to change. Focus on expanding people's minds to the products small producers are crafting individually rather than the big... I lost the rest of the answer to this question in the loud release of sap which comes, periodically, from the pump into the large holding tank.

Where do you see the industry heading? You know, as long as we don't price ourselves out of the reach of most people, I think it's just going to continue to grow.

What's your favorite thing to have syrup on? My wife. giggle giggle. uh. Well, I have syrup in my coffee everyday. So, that's probably my favorite.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I guess a sugarmaker.

If you could be a Pittsburgh Steeler who would it be and why? Paul is a big Steeler's fan and with no delay he answered...Rocky Bleir because he came back from Vietnam with half his leg blown off and still managed to become a Superbowl champion and he was my hero when I was a kid.

What is the most interesting Steeler fact you know? That they've sold out every home game since 1971.

How many bulbs of garlic are you going to plant this fall? Hopefully 3,000

How many taps do you have in your trees? Just under 2,000

How many taps do you want to have? 3,000

How many gallons of sap does it take to make one gallon of syrup? 60

How many cords of wood do you use in a season? 28

How long is your beard? You tell me (at this point Paul pulls off a tape measure from his pant belt loop and holds it up to his beard)...3 1/2 inches.

Why do you think green is Theo's favorite color? Uhh...because it's a great color. Frogs are green and he likes frogs.

Would you be willing to divulge the secret recipe for your delicious maple popcorn? Sure

1/2 cup of syrup
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 goopy tsp. molasses
tiny pinch of baking soda

All this gooeyness is good for 1/2 cup un-popped poporn. Pour over popped popcorn and bake in an oven for an hour at 250 degrees. Yummy Gooey Strait from the Tree Goodness.

Thanks, Paul, for spending a few minutes of your precious woodsplitting time with me. Now please make sure Paul Bunyan doesn't drink a whole bottle of whisky tonight...he needs to save lives tomorrow. Thanks so much!

The Homesteading Hussy

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