If you venture down South Main Street in Suffield as winter turns to spring, you might see Larry Brickner peeking into metal pails attached to trees. You might see a little smoke from the tiny firepit in the yard. And if you roll down the windows you might just get a faint whiff the maple syrup brewing in his yard.
If you're one of the lucky neighbors or friends, you might even get to taste the homemade syrup, laced with a caramel flavor and touch of smokiness.
“It’s a labor of love, really,” said Brickner. “It’s kind of cool and everybody loves it.”
The retired attorney spends February and March beginning the process.
Twelve taps means twelve buckets to collect dripping sugar water, which is then poured into large tubs. Cup by cup, the liquid gets moved to a boiling pan over an open fire in the yard.
"The idea is to keep it boiling as much as you can,” Brickner explained. “I can get 30 gallons boiled on the weekend, which equals one gallon of syrup."
"Doing it outside gives it the smoky taste," he added.
When the 30 gallons of sugar water condenses to a more manageable four gallons, Brickner moves the process inside to the stove to more closely monitor the syrup. Making sure it doesn’t burn is a tenuous process.
“When [my wife] Michelle and I started this 35 years ago for the first time we were kids and boiled it all in the kitchen... by the time were done the wallpaper was dripping with steam," he laughed, recalling the memory.
Originally from Kansas and then Canton, Brickner moved to Suffield eight years ago and was pleased to find enough sugar maple trees on the property to continue the yearly tradition.
He makes about two gallons each year, which gets canned and distributed to friends and family.
"We don't even eat it anymore because of our diet, but sometimes I do put it on tapioca pudding," he said with a smile.