Giving up the body: a sweet sacrifice

Susan Reimer goes maple syruping, and gets a blistered lip for her trouble

February 11, 2013|Susan Reimer

Oh, the physical sacrifices I make for my job as a journalist.

True, I have never been assaulted by a mob in Cairo's Tahrir Square, as CBS' Lara Logan was. And I've never been injured by a bomb, as happened to ABC's Bob Woodruff and CBS' Kimberly Dozier in Iraq.

In fact, the last time I left Maryland for an assignment, it was to cover the Philadelphia Flower Show, and that's not exactly hazard duty.

But I am recovering from injuries suffered while writing a food story for our Wednesday Taste section, and I'd like a little more attention to my suffering than I got in the emergency room.

Let's back this up a bit.

One of the joys of my job is that I not only get to pontificate here in the editorial pages, I get to write a wide range of stories that take me to interesting places to meet interesting people.

This time, it was for a story on cooking with maple syrup, and it required me to visit Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, where the staff has tapped maple trees in preparation for an education event on "maple sugaring" for all ages next weekend.

I tromped through the woods with Ladew educational director Sheryl Pedrick to retrieve the sap that had already collected in the stainless steel buckets. We got about two gallons. Enough, she said, to boil down to about a third of a cup of pure maple syrup.

Writing this story did not require me to boil the sap and make my own maple syrup, but I was caught up in the moment, and I volunteered to try my hand at it. Ms. Pedrick gave me instructions to move the sap to smaller and smaller pots as it boiled down and to watch it carefully in the last minutes, or I would end up not with maple syrup but with maple candy.

I ended up with maple candy.

I suppose they teach you this in journalism's food-writing classes, but it turns out that liquid candy is about a zillion times hotter than any other liquid, and although I let it cool, it didn't get cool enough.

I brought a teaspoon of the amber-colored syrup to my lips and immediately thought better of it. But it was too late. I had molten maple candy stuck to my upper lip.

It hurt about as much as you'd expect.

As I did when I broke my ankle this time last year (I was not on assignment), I went to bed, resolving to worry about it in the morning. It was late anyway. It had taken about three hours for the sap to boil down.

I stumbled to the bathroom in the morning light and could not quite believe what waited for me in the mirror.

I looked for all the world like a manatee.

My upper lip was blistered and swollen and hung over my lower lip like a balcony. It was hideous. Absolutely hideous. I looked like one of those poor children, God bless them, in those Smile Train ads. "Send $35 and Susan can have a normal life."

It was Saturday, and I stayed in seclusion, but a friend scolded me and said I must seek medical attention, so I did. I held my hand casually over the bottom of my face as I moved among the public.

The physician's assistant in the emergency care office actually winced when she looked at me, a reaction you never like to see from a medical professional. And after examining me, she offered me one of those disposable surgical masks. Actually, she gave me two. I tried not to focus on what she was thinking about how I looked.

My husband was in New Orleans covering the Super Bowl for another publication (for which he does not also write about food). When I told him what happened, he said, "Oh, God." And I could hear in his voice that he considered this calamity a terrible burden. On him.

I hid in my house for two more days. The swelling went down and the blisters scabbed, and I returned to work.

Where absolutely nobody noticed my lip. Well, I guess everybody is very busy these days.

You can see the story in Wednesday's paper, but the lip has pretty much healed.

My husband returned from the Super Bowl and gave me one of those "Lucy, you've done it again" shakes of his head.

"You've just done for maple syrup making," he said, "what all those idiots did for deep fat turkey frying."

Thank goodness I haven't been asked to write about that.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @SusanReimer on

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