I live in upstate New York, and we’re surrounded by sap houses. Those are the places where Maple sap is boiled down to that best-of-nature treat, Maple Syrup.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of the Sugar Maple, a tree which grows throughout the northeast United States and eastern Canada. Virtually all of the Maple syrup comes from this area.
So I don’t know if folks do this elsewhere, but around here spring means Pancake Breakfasts at the firehouse. Why? I’m not sure where the tradition started, but it’s a tasty one.
The Pancake Breakfast is an event, a meal, a community gathering and a great fundraiser for volunteer fire departments.
There are a lot of small communities around, and the Pancake Breakfast is the event that brings them up the hill from Canajoharie and down the hill from Sharon, west from Sprakers and east from Salt Springville. It’s kind of like the spring cotillion for all the villages.
So we stand in line with all the other folks that braved the February weather to get to the firehouse at 8:30 and get tickets. The line snakes around stanchions strung with yellow plastic link chains. We wait patiently with our tickets in hand, as a volunteer looks for groups to fill tables.
“A three? Anyone with a party of three?” and the lucky winners are whisked away into the dining room (which is also the meeting room and the all-event room for the firehouse).
Volunteers, with their Fire Company shirts and STAFF emblazoned on their backs become line cooks, servers, bus boys, and waitresses as what seems like the entire town cycles through the annual feeding frenzy.
The meal is served family style. We sit at a table for twelve, the three of us seated with total strangers. No wait, they’re strangers, but not total strangers. We may not know their names and homes but we know they are “of us”. They live in our towns and plant the corn that feeds the cows that produce the milk that feeds the children.
Here there is a teacher. There is our veterinarian. There are Sheriff’s Deputies and snow plow drivers, ladies of the Auxiliary, Rotarians, school kids, moms & dads.
The cars keep parking and the lines keep growing. By threes and fives we’re escorted to our seats, plied with orange juice and coffee and real maple syrup.
Stacks and stacks of flapjacks, an unending stream, plates filled automatically when they’re empty. Piles of sausages, sausage gravy, platters of bacon, buckets of butter, home fries, eggs.
We gleefully fill the makeshift dining room and we eat together the most important meal of the day. Nay, this is one of the most important meals of the year!
Sure, we could stay home and make pancakes. We could go to Denny’s. Service may be faster or prices may be lower.
But here, we’re doing something a little more. We’re not just raising money for the fire company, for hoses and boots and ladders and training.
We’re also showing, by our presence, our commitment to one another, to our communities. To the volunteers that respond to that dreaded sound, the fire siren. For the men and women that will be there, at my house or yours, at 3 a.m. in February in fifteen-degree air if need be.
They’re not paid. Receive no benefits, no pension, no health insurance. They risk their safety for the sake of others. For us.
Besides, where else can you eat breakfast with the mayor, the Sheriff and your retired teacher at the same table?
Take care and keep in touch,