Sugaring, mud season & parsnips

Below is a continuance of Philip Tiemann’s manuscript about sugaring including his trials and tribulations as a new Vermonter. This would have occurred in spring of 1934.

“The season had now arrived when all good farmers work from ‘kin see to can’t see.’ It was light enough now in the morning so I was getting up at 5:30, altho the habit was hard to resume. As the snow melted fast in the sun it started the spring clamor of the brooks and this was a grand sound albeit somewhat awe-inspiring, especially on one of the frequent rainy days. Then the rush of water was accompanied by the grinding of big stones as the current moved them inexorably down-stream. But the finest to hear was the bird-song, which early risers can appreciate best: already there were robins, always such cheery fellows, and song sparrows and even blue-birds.


Philip and Isabel Tiemann at Windy Hill farm in Cavendish. Photo provided by Peter Farrar.

“For a few days more sugaring was in full blast. The term is used loosely to apply to the whole process from tapping the trees (always hard (“rock”) maples) thru boiling down to canning syrup and finishing some off as sugar. Here-abouts considerable “soft” sugar was put up in large pails from which it could be spooned to use as a spread or re-melted for syrup…..

“We also had the pleasure of our first “sugar on snow,” a delicacy which is fast disappearing. Done in the old-fashioned way, one of the neighbor women would ask in a few friends and seat them around a table with milk-pans of firm-packed snow in front of each. The syrup, probably made from “soft sugar,” would be heating on the stove, and at just the proper consistency it was brought to the table in a pitcher and poured in curlicues over the snow, hardening to the point where it could be picked up with a fork. Ummm! With it were doughnuts and, if correct, sour pickles. – One party like this would do me for a long time, but the kids never got tired of them. Now-a-days they are popular for church socials.

“I was fortunate to get the roofing paper – a good grade – on  the new chicken-house between showers, of which we had more than a sufficiency. This at least protected the structure, but much remained to be done. It seemed more important to me to finish with the house roof…..

“….It was a satisfaction to have the house in good order (at least, in comparison to the way it had been.) The attic gave us a superlative storage space – until it became so cluttered it had to be cleared again, which seems the habit with attics. I’ve always wondered how a family can get along without one…..

“….Before the snow had quite disappeared from the garden, I started digging parsnips, – a root crop which is best left in the ground during the winter as freezing is supposed to improve the quality. After trying them, sliced and fried, the family voted that they should be left – period. This was unfortunate, as they were supposed to eke out our failing larder. But there are some things which it seems one must grow up with to appreciate. We came to this conclusion about dandelion greens and milk weed tips, – both considered delicacies hereabout.

“Signs of spring at last were multiplying. Between heavy rains came days of lovely warm sun. The seed-flats in the south window were filled with rows of green sprouts. A few hens had already gotten over their broodiness and were beginning to lay again, – altho with eggs bringing only 16 cents a dozen this did not help much toward the increasing price of feed. But then the “peepers” in the back brook began to sing and we never had heard anything like their shrill, steady symphony, – which would die to silence in an instant if they were disturbed. These tiny frogs, coming out from their mud beds, seem to know without fail when spring is here.

“I have mentioned mud season, which that year lasted a month but we thought it would never end. Getting places was more difficult and uncertain than even mid-winter. To use runners was impossible and wheels not much better, when in some spots a vehicle might ‘sink to the X’s.’ With a horse one could generally keep going, albeit at a snail’s pace, but a car would stop right there and often only a team could get it out. So travel was negligible, and limited to necessity as when I had to go to the village to pick up grain, using the lumber wagon of course.”


This week’s old saying: “Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until they speak.”

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