Boyhood memories from over 50 years ago.

 

Local History

When I was 11 years old (1962) I began boiling sap for maple syrup. Bud Nadeau and Billy Parker were usually there to help.

We built a pit outdoors of stone and placed a heavy iron grate on top of the stones. In the pit we burned wood to heat the sap. We used a large washtub on the grate to boil the sap. It took a few hours to bring the sap to a boil.

The first year I tapped the maple trees on our property and the next year I got permission from my neighbors to tap their trees. Bob Parker, the Cooks and Herbie Randall were happy to let me tap their trees along High Street.

In our barn were some old wooden sap buckets but not enough. To supplement the sap buckets we used half-gallon milk cartons or any other container at hand. Sap spouts were something we didn’t have so my father showed me how to make them.

You cut a piece of sumac about 5/8” in diameter. The next step is to remove the bark from the entire length. Then cut that piece in 4” lengths. I put a stiff piece of coat hanger about 5” long in the bench vice. The ‘pith’ or center of the sumac is very soft. Next you take a piece of sumac you’ve cut and push the center onto the coat hanger and push it through. With just a couple passes you can remove the center creating a hollow tube.

Then you take a knife and slightly taper one end. This is the end that gets tapped into the hole you bore in the maple tree. Tap in just enough for a snug fit, hang a bucket and watch the sap flow.

maple syrup
1950s Maple syrup tin. Photo provided by the Chester Historical Collection

I rigged up a little red wagon with a modern ice chest. I pulled the wagon down the street to the Cooks and emptied the sap buckets into the ice chest. Put the cover on the ice chest and proceed to the next tree and repeat. We did this at least twice a day if the sap was running well.

My folks made me go to bed at 9 p.m. school nights so we boiled Friday and Saturday nights. I could stay out as late as I wanted. We would be outdoors boiling all day and night. When we were hungry we would drop hot dogs into the boiling sap. You’ve never eaten such a good hot dog as one boiled in the sweet sap.

Firewood was always in short supply. An operation of this magnitude required more wood than we could scavenge in the neighborhood. Some will remember Fred Perron. Fred had a tree trimming business in town and was a real nice guy. I asked Fred if he had any limb wood we could have to boil sap. Later that week Fred delivered a truckload of limb wood to my house. Now we were in business.

As water is evaporated from the sap the sugar content increases. At this point if you have too much heat the sugary sap in the tub will erupt into a frothy boil and boil over. Just a couple drops of cream will settle the boil down.

In 1962-1963 my sixth grade teachers at Chester Elementary School were Mr. Fish and Miss Pickard. I really liked them both and both teachers took an interest in me. Mr. Fish taught history and he recognized I liked history. He lent me books and encouraged me to pursue history. Today I credit him for introducing me to history.

Miss Pickard recognized my love of the natural world and flowers. Once she gave me some poppy seeds to plant. I planted them and the next summer they bloomed. I was proud of those poppies. My father ran over them with the lawn mower.

In October, 1962 Miss Pickard wanted some acorns to plant. She asked me if I could get her some. I filled a five-gallon bucket with acorns for her. In return she gave me a book on flowers. I still have that book somewhere. I wonder how large those oak trees are today.

I remember Miss Pickard telling our class about a tourist travelling on a back road here in Vermont whose car overheated. He removed the radiator cap and realized he was low on water. He looked around for a brook so he could get water. There wasn’t a brook nearby but he noticed sap buckets hanging on trees. He took a sap bucket and poured the sap into his radiator. You can imagine what happened to his cooling system as the sap boiled down.

Maple Open House Weekend in Vermont is March 25 and 26. Sugaring is part of quintessential Vermont. Visit a local sugar maker this weekend.

Instead of an old saying I have a question. Did you have a teacher that influenced your life?

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