The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. That said, I have no intention of labeling my Tasha Tudor obsession a "problem." It is merely a "charming quirk."
When Agnes was just over a year old, I stumbled upon The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays in a little bookstore in Astoria. My father stopped by for a visit that afternoon and suggested with amusement that the book seemed a bit advanced for a one year old. Agnes and I knew otherwise and proceeded to read it hundreds of times. Something deep within me must have snapped during all those readalouds, because in the years that followed, I never once missed an opportunity to imitate any of the quaint and lovely activities outlined in the book--at least as well as could be expected living on Long Island in the 21st century.
Valentines sent by Sparrow Post? Check. Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding on New Year's Day? Check. Doll's General Store and Fair? Check. An enchanting creche in the woods? Check. A birthday cake floating down the river? Well, not yet anyway.
We always loved the images from the March section of the book, with the family setting out with their neighbors to gather sap for syrup.
In Tasha's world, the idyllic day of sap boiling ends with a "sugaring off party," with "dinner at the sugarhouse" and "sugar on snow for a treat."
Now the side of me with a grip on reality recognizes that this would be a rather cold and muddy affair, yet the romantic, utterly dominant, side longs for those tables heaped with steaming platters, the pies, the cakes, the crowds of children, and whatever story is being told by the old man just left of the fold. ("Gather round, childer, and let me tell ye 'bouts me rheumatiz. It all started with this here sap.")
This past weekend marks the third year in a row that we have set aside a Sunday in late March for a "sugaring off party." It is only the family in attendance, but with eleven of us, we have a pretty good-sized gathering. The college girls do their best to come home, and this year they both managed. I was touched to see how much they were all looking forward to this dinner, almost as if it was Thanksgiving or some other important holiday. [Although it is still Lent, we observe Sunday as a feast, and this year our party fell on Laetare Sunday, a day of rejoicing.]
The menu is maple themed with other items that seem like the kinds of things one might expect at a party in a farmhouse, or perhaps a sugarhouse:
Chicken and dumplings
Roasted Brussels sprouts
Roasted sweet potatoes
Maple glazed carrots
If you ever wish to experience a sense of well being like none other, put a ham in the oven, and let it roast while you whip up a batch of chicken and dumplings. The crackling sound of the chicken browning on the stove, the mapley scent of the ham, the powdery goodness of the rising dumplings--it makes you glad to be at home and grateful to be an American. We have reached the happy phase in life when more than half the children know their way around the kitchen. It is a joy to be the mother in a room bustling with life, with competent people chopping and peeling and spilling and cleaning and joking and teasing and laughing and laughing and laughing.
I am sorry to say that in all the bustle, I did not manage to take a single picture this year. The photos below are from 2015 and 2016, but 2017 was very similar. That is the beauty of tradition, and this relatively new one looks like it is here to stay.
2016--silver sap bucket favors filled with candy.
2015--Eileen seems pleased with the Sugarhouse Sundaes.
As you may be able to tell, the Sugarhouse Sundae was our own invention, created because, with all that cooking and preparation, pie baking or any sort of complicated dessert seemed out of the question. The Sugarhouse Sundae changes a bit every year, but the essential elements are good vanilla ice cream, some other ice cream flavor such as butter pecan or caramel, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a leaf shaped cookie. (We use oak leaves every year, but they seem fitting enough.) Other additions we have added here and there include caramel syrup, nuts, cinnamon, whipped cream, and, in the case of the Sundae pictured above, dark chocolate studded with maple sugar.