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Season's Starting!

Craig Line - Thursday, March 12, 2015


I wanted to let you all know that the new sugaring season is underway! Well, at least sort of… After a couple days in the 40’s, even all the way up to 50 degrees on Monday (!) it’s now back down to what we here in Vermont have been used to this winter: a high today of 24. Actually, we would have paid a lot of money for a day in the 20’s for most of January and February. There was a stretch of 6 weeks when it never got as high as freezing in many parts of the state. Needless to say, what sap there is is frozen up again, but there’s a decided difference in the days—even today the sun turned the back roads into slippery mud, although not as badly as on Monday.

We have been tapping away in the woods, and fixing up mainlines where they were taken down by falling trees and limbs during winter storms, and generally getting organized and ready for the season. I have purchased lots of supplies: sap filters, tubing and fittings for replacing and fixing up some of the more than 900 taps on those systems, syrup jugs, and more. We haven't yet put up any of the 150 buckets, but before we do, I'll have to head out along the road with the bucket loader to make some paths into the 5-foot-high snowbanks out there. A couple weeks ago 4 or 5 friends came over to help me split up the rest of the sugarwood and move it into the sugarhouse, I brushed the flues and so with just a little more organizing out there, we should be ready to boil when it begins to run in earnest.

 So, when will that be? Temperatures are supposed to moderate this coming weekend, albeit with some more snow, then it’ll likely get colder again towards the middle of next week. You’ll have to stay tuned. All I know is that after a long winter, it feels really good to be getting outside into the woods every day, even though it is a struggle at times to be wading through almost 4 feet of snow out there (sugaring: my annual spring fitness program!)

The days are definitely getting longer now, and the sun warmer, and it was really nice to see sap dripping out of the holes as soon as we drilled them the other day. Before we know it, we’ll hear the first red-winged blackbird, and see the first robin, Canada geese will be flying north overhead, and without realizing it, spring will be happening all around us.

This year, I am more fully participating in the annual Open Sugarhouse Weekend sponsored by the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers' Association, to be held this year on Saturday and Sunday, March 28th and 29th. I'll be open for visitors those days from 1-5 pm, with sugarhouse snacks and hopefully, with cooperative weather, a tank full of sap for boiling into hot, fresh maple syrup!  Of course, anytime I'm boiling, I welcome visitors, that's half of why I do it! It's a great, fun, optimistic time of year, and I find it's a lot more enjoyable when the whole community is involved. I'll most likely have another Open Sugarhouse gathering in April, I'll let you know when that will be based on the weather.

Here's to another sweet season!




History of Maple

A native Chief returning to his village after a hunting trip threw his tomahawk into a sugar maple tree trunk. The spring sun warmed the tree and sap ran down the bark from the cut the tomahawk had made and into a birch bark container left under the tree. Thinking the crystal clear sap was water, the Chief’s wife poured it in with some meat she was cooking. As the water boiled away, a sticky sweet glaze formed on the meat, adding a wonderfully sweet maple flavor to the meal.

When settlers came with metal tools, they drilled small holes in the trees, whittled wooden spouts and replaced the wooden troughs used by Native Peoples with wooden buckets and covers. They made their maple sugar in large iron kettles suspended over a fire by wooden poles or tripods. Making maple sugar was common in Vermont, being some distance from any seaport where white sugar was imported. 

As maple sugaring evolved, arches were built, containing the heat from roaring wood fires and holding large flat pans on top. Buildings to house these “boilers” was the next step. Sugarhouses today still resemble those early structures with the characteristic cupola on the roof allowing the sweet maple scented steam to billow forth.

To find out how Vermont sugarmakers make our maple syrup today click on “How We Make It.”