From sugaring off to pancakes dressed in syrup

Photos & Article By Ryan Servant
Citizen Chronicle Writer
ryan@TheCitizenChronicle.com

As winter comes to an end and the weather starts to get a bit warmer that can only mean one thing here in New England, Maple Syrup.  

One of the local sugar houses in the area is Maple Ledge Farm on Vinton Road in Holland. For years, owner John Stevens has invited the community to come enjoy a free pancake breakfast and learn what some of the steps of the maple syrup process is. Over the Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, Mr. Stevens saw an estimated 300 people enjoy his sugar house.

Mr Stevens, who has been making maple syrup and its by products all of his life, can remember back when he was 3-years-old, riding in the back of a sleigh at his grandfather’s property in Windsor, out in the Berkshires, helping to collect the sap. “One of my earliest memories was being pulled by horse-drawn sleigh at my grandfather’s sugarhouse,” he recalled. “We would gather bucket by bucket, there were no hoses back then.”

Mr. Stevens said he opens his doors to the public for a weekend each year to show people what the process entails.

“I get to expose a lot of folks to the maple sugaring process that would not normally get to see or learn about it,” he said.

“It’s a family tradition and a New England tradition,” Mr. Stevens continued. “The settlers that were first here they would make one pound block of maple sugar, and use that as barter.”

That time-honored New England tradition was also on display this weekend in the region’s epicenter for time-honored New England traditions: Old Sturbridge Village (OSV). The popular living museum holds its annual Maple Days program during the month of March. Each weekend in March costumed historians walk visitors through the entire process from sap to sugar in its working sugar camp. A typical day’s scheduled events during Maple Days will include baking with maple sugar, cooking with maple sugar, a visit to the working maple sugar camp, learning all about sugaring off, and more in addition to the regularly planned programs.

We spoke with Justin Kennick who is one of the costumed historians has been working the OSV farms since 1998.  He was trained to work on the farm from OSV, and that means doing a lot of the leg work a farmer would have been doing from late January into March on any typical farm in New England. He explained why it was maple sugar, rather than maple syrup, that was typically the desired product in the early 19th century.

“Back in the 1830’s they didn’t use the syrup, it wont keep,” Mr. Kennick explained. “We tap the trees, we get the sap, boil it down to get the water out. At that point we deliver it to the ladies of the household to cook down further to crystalize it and dry it out into a sugar.”

Mr. Kennick explained rural New Englanders of the time period tried to make around 50 to 100 pounds of sugar per person for the family, in a good year. To produce that much maple sugar, a farmer would have to process anywhere from 320 to 600 pounds of sap for each person in their family. A typical conversion of 40 gallons of sap to one gallon of maple sugar has to be processed even more to make around six or seven pounds of sugar. The window in which sap can be extracted comes to a close once temperatures stop fluctuating between below freezing at night and above freezing temperatures during the day.

Nearly 200 years later, we are lucky enough to just head over to a local sugar shack like the Maple Ledge Farm to buy all sorts of locally made maple products like candy, butter, and, of course, syrup. 

For more information on Maple Ledge Farm,visit their Facebook page at facebook.com/maple.ledge. This year’s Maple Days program at OSV comes to an end next weekend, with events planned on March 24 and 25. For more information on OSV’s Maple Days, visit https://www.osv.org/event/maple-days.

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