Making Maple

maple article - Version 3My father died when I was seventeen. I have lots of old photos of him but this one, published in the local newspaper over 50 years ago, is one of my favorites. In it, he’s drawing off maple syrup from the evaporator on our farm.

My father was a farmer. He worked the farm with my grandfather, on land the family had been on since the late 1700s. Like many farmers he also drove a school bus, and then he went on to hold an administrative position in the school system and to serve as town supervisor.

Farmers may epitomize the concept of “hands at home,” growing crops and tending animals, fixing machinery and building what needs to be built. Highly self-reliant, with lives governed by milking times and the changing seasons, family farmers have always been at the center of what it means to be American.

My father was a dairy farmer; my sister and I didn’t like the milk we got at school or in restaurants because it didn’t taste like “Dad’s milk”!

But, of all the things he made, we liked the maple syrup best! For a short, intense period in early spring, when the temperatures are above freezing during the day but fall back below freezing at night AND before the tree get buds, many North Country farmers add “sugaring down” to their list of daily chores.

According to the article that accompanied this photo, my father hung about 700 buckets on sugar maple trees on our land. From these he collected upwards of 600 gallons of maple sap that would’ve been boiled down to produce about 150 gallons of maple syrup. He sold much of this locally.

But none of that mattered to us kids. For us, the process meant sweet sips of the thin sap straight from the tree and lots of lovely maple syrup on our pancakes!

maple article - Version 2

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46 thoughts on “Making Maple

  1. What great photos! That work ethic is in your blood, that’s for sure (maybe combined with a little maple syrup).

    • Being a farmer is hard work! We kids didn’t really get pressed into service too much but, even as a youngster, I could see how exhausted the men were at the end of the day.

      And have I told you how much I appreciate your constant support? I truly do!

      • Does the newspaper still exist? If it does you could get in touch with them, they may still have a hard copy. I know when any of our family had photos in the paper, we were able to get a copy of the original. Good luck!

      • That’s a great idea, Sarah–the paper is still around! I’ll check it out! Of course, 50-plus years is a long time . . .

      • I love memory lane, there has to be a village somewhere with that as a signpost, in the next village we have Poor Garden Lane & in Derbyshire there is Pocket Handkerchief Lane, I’d love that as my address 🙂

  2. Wow, farmers must work so hard. I don’t know how they do it! This is a lovely memory to have of your father, and I’m sorry he passed away when you were so young. I bet unlimited access to maple syrup as a kid was fun! xx

    • Farmers DO work hard but I think they find their work rewarding. Growing up on a farm seemed to me like the perfect life–we had so much freedom and our parents and grandparents were always around.

  3. What a great story and fun photos 🙂 Yes, farmers really are the definition of Hands at Home. We live in the country, surrounded by farmers and I see their handwork every day.
    Mmmm…I’m craving pancakes now!

  4. Kerry, what wonderful pics and memories! I’ve often thought I’d like to experience the syrup-making process in person, but since I haven’t yet, this was a treat! I could almost feel like I was there at the farm of your youth as I read your words. So glad you shared! Have a great weekend, my friend!

    • Thanks, Susan! So good to hear from you! And I hope you have a chance to experience sugaring down in person someday–both Vermont and New York have maple weekends every spring where dozens of operations have open houses–FUN!

    • This is so true. I ran a restaurant and put Junket on the menu. We had a visit from a food critic who took me aside after tasting it and said that it was not good because it did not taste like the Junket she ate on her Grandparents farm when she was small.
      I tried to explain that probably the milk they used was unpasteurised and that nothing could ever match her memories of what would have seemed to her Ambrosia at the time!
      It is the same as me recalling the height and splendour of my Grandma’s herbaceous border…it was only gigantic and jungle like, because I was so small…-Karen

      • That’s a great story, about the junket–you’d think a food critic would be able to set aside such biases but I guess they’re only human!!

    • I couldn’t agree more! My grandmother made sour milk cookies, to use up extra milk from the farm, and, try as I will, I cannot recreate them! And they were perfect . . .

      • It’s like that Friends episode where Monica tries to recreate the cookies Phoebe’s grandmother made after Phoebe lost the secret recipe. In the end they discovered that the ‘secret recipe’ was on the back of the chocolate chip packet 🙂

  5. Oh Kerry, this is a truly wonderful post, giving us an insight in a whole other world; your world as a child. How sad that your Father died so young, but you and your sister, in that sweet little photo, well, you look so cherished and happy.
    We all have so many layers of experiences and memories laid down inside our hearts and often it only takes a smell, a sound, or a colour to bring those feelings flooding back.I totally understand now why the sound of the sap dripping into the bucket evokes so many memories for you.
    I did not know my Father very well due to divorce when I was 4. But I can recall his greenhouse and his workshop. I have just been to a workshop this morning to visit a retired carpenter. It was as much as I could do not to want to ask if I could stay there forever……. Karen.

    • You’re so right about little things bringing the memories back! And a woodshop seems especially evocative to me–I LOVE those smells of wood shavings and tool oil! I do feel I had a sort of charmed childhood so the memories are very sweet. I know people who have no such memories and what a hard thing that must be!

  6. Thank you for teaching me about “sugaring down’ I enjoyed reading your post. You have very fond memories of your Dad. That keeps his legacy alive. Thank you so much for sharing!

  7. What a wonderful post. My grandfather was a dairy farmer—so I know both how hard they have to work and how the milk from elsewhere never tastes as good.

  8. Oh, what a lovely post! LOL re the milk. I grew up on a farm and our milk came from cows we milked by hand. When I was young my siblings & I used to take our plastic cups down to the yard and dad would “squirt” milk into them. As I got older I preferred my milk to be chilled!

    That’s interesting about maple – I learnt something new tonight.

  9. Pingback: Spring Tradition: The Pancake Breakfast | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  10. Pingback: Spring Senses: The Taste of Maple, in a Scone | Love Those "Hands at Home"

  11. Pingback: Sugar on Snow | Love Those "Hands at Home"

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