I’ve been wanting for years to write a post about my memories of maple sugaring, but just hadn’t found the time. I’m pretty determined to write one at least before the end of the 2018 sugaring season. I want this to serve the dual purpose of recording memories for my grandkids as well as making an interesting early-spring blog post.
That picture at the top is a scan of a greeting card. It looks, really, amazingly like my grandfather's sugarhouse and sugar orchard. There was the same woods road bordered by old stone walls and mounds of rocks, the same hillside sloping up behind in one area, the same maples lining the road, and even the same mountain in the distance! I have to wonder, I really do, if the artist had visited my grandparents' sugar orchard. Or maybe, probably, many New England sugar orchards looked a lot alike.
|A vintage sugaring postcard that I recently found|
The picture below with horses is one that I recently found. I think that my grandfather is the man standing in the center of the photo behind the gathering tank. I believe that the middle child sitting to his right, the smiling little girl, is my mother. To the far left, the oldest sister looks exceedingly proud to be holding the reins. It seems to me that this is probably a posed picture, most likely taken at the end of the sugaring season, since there is no snow.
|🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁 🍁|
Nowadays if you visit gift shops in New England, you'll often see maple candies in the form of maple leaves and other shapes. It's basically the same thing, but the sugar cakes were larger. This maple candy is very sweet and also very delicious. My daughter made some maple candy this year, and below you see two grandchildren about to partake!
The photo below is one of several I have that was taken in my grandparents' sugar orchard. I'm sorry to say that I don't know who the boy with the oxen is, and I don't recognize the dog in front of him. The other dog, over at the far left, looks like my grandparent's farm dog Tippy. She was famous for being able to open latched doors (the type where one just lifts the latch) with her nose.
|Sugaring with oxen in my grandparents' sugar orchard|
|From our daily newspaper, some years ago|
Nearly every day after school in sugaring season, my brother and I would put on our wool snow pants and our jackets and head for the sugarhouse. Can you imagine our mother let us do this? It involved walking up a dirt road and then scrambling up the aforementioned snowy/muddy hillside until we disappeared from view among the trees. The tree above, where we might stop to rest, would have been still in sight if my mother looked out the back door. But the sugarhouse was much deeper into the woods than this, past a long stone wall and down a lane. Below you can see the sugarhouse with steam pouring out. Maple-scented steam is simply amazing!
Of course we would stay up there as late as we dared. Oftentimes it would be nearly dark by the time we made it back down the hill and trudged up the road to our home. I had heard many stories of bobcats in those woods, so often we ran down the hill rather than trudged!
It was so good to see lights shining from the windows of our house, and to come in and smell a delicious supper all ready for us. Often on winter nights my mother would make something like baked potatoes with creamed chipped beef. Oh, so good! When we had baked potatoes, we would cut them in half, then scoop out the innards onto our plate ready to add butter, salt and pepper. But we would drop a pat of butter into each potato skin and wait for it to melt before eating it, holding it sort of folded so the butter wouldn't drip out. Simply delicious.
|A vintage syrup ad that I love!|
I don't have photos of this endeavor. However, I do have one photo that I found of the fireplace in earlier years. My brother and I are playing near it. I may have been pretending it was the fireplace in a cabin ... who knows? It looks as if I may be trying to sweep the "floor". What I can say for sure is that boiling sap on this outdoor fireplace was asking quite a bit of it, and it fell into disrepair soon after that experiment.
Our method of collecting sap at that time was to load up the back of the family Jeep with a metal gathering tank, a stack of gathering buckets, and kids -- siblings, cousins, neighbors, friends. We would park the Jeep in a central location and then we kids would scatter, gathering buckets in hand, to the various maples -- some along the roadside and some up in the woods -- that my dad had previously helped us to tap. We went from tree to tree, emptying the sap buckets into our gathering buckets.
(The photo below is actually from this year -- it's my grandchildren -- but it depicts the process well.)
Cheryl Johnson and graced the front of a brochure some years ago. I've always liked this since it looks a lot like my own two girls working together to carry a heavy gathering bucket back in the day. You can see the potential for sloshing sap!
When all of the sap had been gathered for that day, back we would go to the sugarhouse and begin the process of boiling it down. This often took us until well into the evening. We would bring the syrup to a specific temperature and then drain it off into a large kettle. My mom finished it off on the kitchen stove and bottled it.
Then on the next day there was a good run of sap, we would do this all over again, and continue to do so until the buds came out on the maples and sugaring season ended. It was hard work, but a great project to be involved with.
We continued this backyard sugaring operation until long after my brother and I were married, with families of our own. Sometimes my brother would do the boiling; sometimes my husband (who had also grown up with sugaring) did. We also had an elderly neighbor who was experienced at sugar making and often helped us out. I think our kids were in high school when we finally gave it up.
So it was absolutely wonderful that our own kids could get to take part in this fabulous experience and piece of our family history. These days, I'm thrilled to report that my daughter and her family have a little syrup making operation in their own back yard! The photos below were taken when they tapped their trees. Ari is holding sap spiles that fit into the holes drilled in the tree. Then the sap buckets will hang from the hooks below the spiles.