Sugaring in the old days

Vermont Sugar Makers Gathering Sap by Harry Chapman. Ron Patch photo.

Well here we are in February. When I was a boy, an optimist’s sign of spring was when sap buckets appeared in February. Of course winters were much colder then with mountains of snow.

Danny Clemons did some sugaring when he was young at Don Farrar’s on Crow Hill. Danny said Herman Briggs and Danny’s father, Bill, helped Don sugaring. Danny’s memory fades with time but there may have been others. Below is what Danny remembers about those days.

Danny lived on First Avenue. After school, he came home, changed his clothes, and walked up to Crow Hill Farm to gather sap. The snowbanks were very high and climbing over them to get to a maple tree was a workout.

First, of course, was to tap the tree. Then tap a sap spout into the hole he bored. Next hang a bucket with metal cover. Larger maple trees could have four or more buckets thereon.

They would begin down by Walter Turco’s, and hang buckets along the road all the way up to Don’s. Danny described gathering sap. Climb up over the snowbank, through crotch deep snow, to empty the sap buckets. Danny carried a metal gathering pail. The gathering pail maybe held four gallons. It was round and tapered smaller at the top. The gathering pail had a metal flange around the top. This tapered pail with flange around the top helped prevent spilling sap, as it sloshed around.

Don had a tractor with a trailer. On the trailer was a large gathering tank. Trip after trip was made, over the snowbanks, with the gathering pail to collect sap. The sap was then poured into the gathering tank on the trailer.

Several would gather sap. As the tractor moved forward, those who emptied their gathering pails would walk ahead to the next tree.

Don, Bill, and Herman worked in Don’s sugar house boiling. Huge amounts of wood were consumed. Danny recalls the evaporator as being large. The front pan was maybe four feet square. The rear pan was maybe 4 feet x 10 feet.

If the sap ran well the men would boil till midnight. Some days, the sap ran so fast, that they gathered sap twice. Everyone took turns watching the evaporator and feeding wood into the arch.

Don sold the maple syrup. Proceeds were divided amongst Don, Bill, and Herman, based on how much time they had invested. Danny might have been paid a few dollars. They were also given syrup to take home.

Clean up was another laborious job. Sap buckets had to be taken down. Each man wore a nail apron tied around his waist. Using the claws of a hammer the spout was extracted from the tree and dropped into the nail bag.

The sap buckets needed to be scrubbed clean before they were put away for next year. They were stacked, upside down, in piles one on top of the other. Next, the evaporator pans were cleaned and placed upside down on top of the arch to prevent dust and dirt collecting in the pans.

Harry Chapman

The photo with this article was taken by Harry Chapman of Windham. Notice the team of horses drawing a heavy work sled. On the sled is a large gathering tank. You can see a man pouring sap into the gathering tank. In the background you can see two other men next to another sled with gathering tank. The man in the foreground empties a sap bucket into his gathering pail. His dog poses for the camera. It’s an excellent photograph.

Harry Chapman lived in Windham and was a prolific photographer. Chapman produced over a thousand different postcard views during his life. Danny and I seek out his postcards.

He died in 1967 at 91 years old and rests in Windham Cemetery next to town hall. From Chapman’s obituary: “Mr. Chapman, born in Hanover, Maine, Aug. 5, 1875, was about three years of age when his family moved to Windham. Besides carrying on a poultry business for many years he became well known as a commercial photographer.

He served two terms in the House as representative from Windham and was a member of that town’s Board of Listers for a number of years. He was a member of the Windham Congregational Church…”

I remember old Vermonters having apple pie with a slice of sharp cheese for breakfast.

This week’s old saying is from Lee Kendall: “Apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.”


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