Twenty-four hundred sugar maples

MOST likely you've been won-dering why the cookery col-umns and the high-kitchen magazines have neglected to bring you a recipe for sugar-eggs. Apart from the fact that the cookery columns and the high-kitchen magazines never heard of sugar-eggs, a good reason is that not too many households, and few restaurants and hotels, have a stewpot 35 feet long and 10 feet across, which is essential for a small family feed of sugar-eggs. Permit me to elucidate -- that is, eggsplain. Spouse and I repaired in maple-syrup time to the sainted town of Philibert, up in Beauce County, province of Quebec, to assist the Family Bolduc briefly in its maple orchard. The Bolducs consist of Pierre-Marie, Carmelle, and their four children -- Richard, H'el`ene, Dianne, and Jasmin. Beauce County is a most interesting and very special place. French down the line, it lost contact with Mother France well over 300 years ago and has developed its own argot, jargon, lingo, patois, until the French Academy threw its hands in the air and gave up. A scholar in St. Georges (all but a couple of the Beauce towns are named for saints) lately brought out ``Le parler populaire de la Beauce.'' He is Maurice Laurent, and he has collected and ex-plained the oddities of the French language that originated in Beauce and will be understood only by Beauce, or perhaps somebody who has gone there to assist in the maple season. For one thing, he explains that in maple time, just about everybody in Beauce becomes a ``sugarer'' and that to do this he/she ``goes to the sugars.'' But in Beauce, where everybody sugars, Pierre-Marie and Carmelle Bolduc are small operators -- they hang only 2,400 pails. May I suggest that among the sounds of spring that revive the jaded winter heart we rely too much on the cheep of robins, the chorus of pond peepers, and suchlike routines, and neglect the sweet sym-phonic tinkle of maple sap dripping into 2,400 pails?

We were promised the experience of a sugar-party -- a gathering of family and friends coming to assist in the operation and remaining into the evening for a feast to reduce the famish of the labor. The sugarhouse has a room apart with cookstove and great family table, and here -- we were promised -- we would eat our fill of ``ears,'' have sugar-eggs, and also (as does everybody else) help strain and stir and wrap and label.

Ears? Strips of salt pork, sliced like bacon but thicker than store bacon, are laid into a frypan and brought to a crisp morsel that curls in the heat until it resembles, or suggests, a human ear. It isn't something the cook does; it comes about in the frying. If, as might occur to some people, the thought of fried strips of salt pork (lard sal'e in Beauce) does not appeal, it is only because some people haven't lugged pails of sap all afternoon and don't consider the context of an atmosphere heavy with maple sweetness. Ears, at that time and in that context, are delicious.

Carmelle, assisted by H'el`ene, kept the ears coming and also operated a second frypan that soon exhausted a ham. The potatoes were baked in the oven, which makes a good place, and the toast was fabricated on the hot covers abaft the frypans. Beauce has adapted, or cor-rupted, many English words, and they startle when first heard in a French sentence. Such as yarde -- put the firewood in the yard. Such as crobarre, which is a crowbar. Perhaps froque, a frock. And Carmelle offered toast from ``homemade bread,'' with homemade butter! The toast (from true pain chez nous) was in two-inch slices, to be buttered also with soft maple sugar.

Sugar-eggs? The evaporator that re-duces maple sap to maple syrup is 35 feet long and 10 feet wide. The inferno under it keeps it boiling all over, and at the syrup end the temperature is 220 degrees F. Whip your eggs in a bowl as if for scrambling (but no milk) and dump into the hot syrup. Carmelle explains they are half cooked by the steam before they reach the syrup. Retrieve imme-diately with a skimmer and serve. Don't burn yourself. C'est bon, saw!

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