Do you know about maple syrup? Vermont is famous for it. You see farms and smallholdings with ‘maple syrup for sale’ everywhere in the Brattleboro and Dummerston townships.
Apple books for sale at the Farm Shop
You can also buy it at the Scott Farm, Dummerston where the Landmark Trust USA have their offices. I always like to visit the farm and shop as it is a pleasant walk along the quiet, dusty road from Naulakha/The Carriage House.
The Scott Farm Shop
I wrote about my previous visits to the farm and Landmark Trust offices here.
Landmark Trust USA Offices at Scott Farm
Ladder Instructions Notice in the Offices
Just beyond the Scott Farm is an old sugarhouse. It doesn’t look as if it used any more although there’s a decent wood pile alongside.
In order to try to find out more about the life of Emily Dickinson I took with me the novel “The Sister” by Paola Kaufmann. I found this excellent book a lighter read than perhaps a serious biography (and certainly a lot lighter to carry than Lives Like Loaded Guns the biography by Lyndall Gordon). In an early chapter Lavinia describes a local expedition to collect maple syrup (this was in northern Massachusetts in about the 1850s). I reproduce these paragraphs here :
“The history of the maples is a beautiful one. Throughout the summer, and thanks to the sun that for so many hours bronzes the tree canopy, sugars begin to accumulate in the leaves, which later are converted into sap, amassing like treasure in the trunks of the trees. This is the sweet soul of the maple. Towards the end of the summer and during autumn, the maple sheds these very leaves that have acted as sponges, soaking up sunlight. These leaves – some reddish, others yellowish – fall with the first frosts. Then, sweet soul of sap, protected behind layer after layer of living tissue; dead pulp and bark, remains intact, becoming sweeter and sweeter while the snow builds up on the dry, dead-looking branches and against the sleeping trunks; and the farmers keep the surrounding area clear so that should a tree fall it should not damage one of the young maples.
Then spring arrives, and thanks to the sweet sap hidden away on the inside, the maples return to life; the new shoots appear timidly to greet the sun that slowly grows more and more yellow, and this is when the work of the sugar-maker really begins: the maple harvest. Sometimes, if spring comes early or if winter has not been too severe, the operation begins in the middle of February, but normally the maple harvest is during March, although there is no one simple precise sign: the time is usually called the “sugar season”. Some believe that the sugar season is announced during the day by the crows, unable to wait in silence for the arrival of warmth.
The sugar-men know exactly where, amidst the dense woodlands, the edible syrup is to be found: it takes 40 years for a tree to grow from planting to sugar production. The men head off to these places with the sledges, as snow is still thick in the drifts, armed with wooden pails girdled to perfection with metal rings. The night before the first harvest they hang these pails outside the cabins full of hot water, then cold water, so that the slats swell into each other, helping to seal them. And they go, with their sledges, their pails and their tools, to bore into the maples a hole no more than three inches wide, three feet up, like a small wound through which the soul of the tree willingly bleeds. The healthiest and largest of the maples will tolerate up to three of these holes, and the sugar-men try never to wound the tree twice in the same place, always allowing wounds of the previous year to scar over completely. The pails hang from the spouts and they are left to collect the clear sap that drips down, slowly at first, then as time goes by, much quicker, until there is none left. When the pails are full, their collective contents are poured into enormous boilers, and either fires are lit in special spots in the forest, or the pails are carried to the cabins, where a more industrialized system helps to evaporate the water from the sap. In the forest, when the harvest is small, the dense liquid is poured into metal receptacles that are placed like gigantic kettles above the fire, boiling the syrup. And when it is at the right point, it can be thrown onto the snow, where the syrup acquires its wax-like consistency. If two drops melt as they fall, it means that the syrup is ready to be jarred.
And in this way, each spring, pails are hung from their small taps, and the maples, day after day, continue with their slow and sweet bleeding.”
I usually buy a couple of small bottles to pack in my suitcase and give to our sons. Like liquid gold it is probably just as heavy.
The best there is! …and thank you for mine x
Oh, Barbara, you know I just got back from Quebec – and I went to a great “sugar shack” shop and brought back 2 boxes of maple sugar candies, a bottle of maple syrup with Grand Marnier, 2 of hard maple sugar blocks (you slice them with a knife, and use them for cooking – or eating!), and 2 bags of maple sugar fudge! I have adored maple sugar since childhood and can never find or eat enough.
Wow! That’s a lot of maple sugar/syrup to pack. Being liquid the syrup had to go in my checkin case. Even so the USDoT opened it and I’m sure it was the syrup they were checking as they never put it back in the several plastic bags I carefully wrapped it in. I was being extra careful since someone told me (or read somewhere) that Rudyard Kipling tried to bring 20 glass jars of the stuff back to the UK and jars broke and made a terrible mess. (I meant to drop this little tale into the post and forgot). It was reading The Sister that gave me the idea to post about it. It’s commonplace in Vermont (and in Canada too) but in the UK perhaps not so well known
Actually I brought maple sugar to some UK friends on my last trip and I’m not sure they knew what it was. 🙂 Also, I stupidly put the maple syrup w. Grand Marnier bottle in my carry-on, for the Montreal to Toronto flight. Fortunately, they allowed me to go back again, retrieve my bag, pack the bottle in it, and check in again, and I had time to do all that. The rest of the stuff was in my suitcase. There’s not much I wouldn’t do for maple! (I’ve always enjoyed the sugaring-off chapter in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods.)
You were very lucky!! Ah! There had to be more literary connections, didn’t there?
Love Maple syrup; the best thing to top home made porridge on a cold winter’s morning. I buy mine from a branch of Partridges in central London…an independent supermarket chain who cater for US ex-pats.
I first read about maple syrup making as a child in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. Never forgot it, even though it was years later that I actually tasted it.
You make it sound delicious, Fran. I don’t think I have seen it for sale over here – but then I have never looked. Whereas in Vermont it is ubiquitous.