Vermont Maple Sugar, an article on tapping and making maple sugar and maple syrup from the 1904 LA Times

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The Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1904, p.A6:

VERMONT'S MAPLE SUGAR CROP.

GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE IN THE MIDST OF ITS HARVEST.
Generally Predicted That This Will be a Record Year for the Industry--
How the Work is Carried On--More Syrup Than Sugar--
Vermonters Proud of Their Trees.


    (Providence Journal:) Vermont is in the midst of harvesting one of her most important crops, maple sugar and syrup, and speculation is rife as to the outcome.

    Some authorities contend that it will be the best sugar year in a generation, while there are experienced sugar makers who say that conditions are such as to render the crop a small one...
    Last year it was one of the worst the state has known for a long time, the reason lying in the suddenness of the spring's advent, which swept away the snow and brought the frost out of the ground before some of the farmers were anywhere near ready to make sugar...

    Maple sugar brings to many a Vermont farmer a big proportion of the ready money he handles during the year. Add to this that the crop is one requiring no preliminary labor, the tasks of gathering and manufacture being the only work involved, and no expenditure of money after the original investment except for the paraphernalia used in gathering the crop, and the reader will be led to a partial understanding of why the maple sugar crop of Vermont is held in so high esteem...

    It is said that the first maple sugar made by white people in Vermont was made in Bennington in March, 1763, near the log cabin of Capt. Samuel Robinson, the first settler of Bennington, who went there from Hardwick, Mass. The sap was caught in small logs hollowed to hold about a gallon. Several pounds of sugar and a liquor cask of syrup were made...
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    This was by no means the first discovery of the fact that sugar could be made from the sap of the maple, for the Indians were accustomed to tap the trees long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Their method, which was probably the method followed by the first white sugar maker at Bennington, was to gash the tree with a sharp weapon in such a manner that the sap would drip into a trough hollowed from a log, and condensation was accomplished by dropping heated stones into the sap.
    The results of this operation must have been anything but pleasing to the eye or a sense of cleanliness, but as the red man has never been accused of being overnice as to dirt, the syrup he got was probably as delicious to him as is that made in a modern sugar house to a native Vermonter...

    The opening of the sugar season depends wholly on the weather. In some years the trees are tapped as early as town meeting day, the first Tuesday in March, but this year more than half the month had gone before the earliest orchards were considered ready for tapping. [The orchard of John Buell, at Wilmington, Vt.,] is an early one, on a southern and western hillside, sheltered from the blasts of the north wind, but even there is was not thought well to set the sap buckets before St. Patrick's Day, and it was nearly a week after that before sufficient sap had been collected to warrant boiling.

    During the winter the sap of the maple, as of other trees, retreats to the roots of the tree, where it remains until the northward course of the sun indicates the approach of spring. The sap, responding to the call of warmth, then begins its upward course to the trunk and branches, and it is at this time that the sugar maker gathers it.
    A sudden and complete thaw means an equally sudden rising of the sap, and a short gathering season, but when the frost comes out of the ground slowly and the nights are cold enough to cover pools of water with a light coating of ice, the flow of sap is retarded during the night, and the sugar maker is happy in the knowledge that he is getting the most out of his trees.

    Experience and instinct warn the farmer of the advent of sugar season. When there comes a warm, sunny March day, with the indescribable atmosphere which tells of Winter's withdrawal, he suspends all other work of the farm, unlocks the sugar house, and, loading his buckets on a hand-sled, goes over the crusted snow from tree to tree, depositing buckets at the base of each.
    Before this he has perhaps had to shovel a road for the horse to the sugar house, for the snow lies deep on the mountains, even in March. This year there were three feet of snow in Wilmington when the sugar season opened.

    With a bit-stock and augur, the maple trees are tapped with holes an inch or so deep and about half an inch in diameter, metal spiles or spouts are sunk into the holes, and from these the buckets are suspended.
    The sugar house has, during the Winter, been stocked with firewood for the boiling, the evaporator and tanks have been cleaned thoroughly, and everything is ready by the time enough sap has flowed for the boiling.

    In the majority of orchards in Vermont and elsewhere, the sap is gathered from each bucket into a tank drawn by horses or oxen through the orchard, but a much better device is in use at Mr. Buell's orchard.

    Station tanks have been located at convenient places in the grove, from which pipes run to the storage tank, just outside the sugarhouse, and the sugar maker or his assistant empties the buckets into three station tanks with far less expenditure of labor than is necessary when the gathering is done with animals. The flow from the station tanks to the main tank and from that into the evaporator can be regulated at will.

    A sugar evaporator is a huge pan, sometimes four feet by eight, divided by transverse walls into compartments. The dividing walls are open at alternate ends, and the end of the pan nearest the chimney is slightly lower than that nearest the door of the furnace. The sap flows into the evaporator at the latter end, from which it makes a leisurely circuit of each compartment until the last one is reached, boiling merrily all of the time.

    During the journey it is being evaporated continually, of course, and when the last compartment is reached enough of the water has been boiled out so that nothing but the pure syrup remains, which is drawn off for the market.

    During the entire process care is taken to insure as nearly perfect cleanliness as is possible. The sap buckets are covered, as are the station tanks and the receiving tank, for the exclusion of dust, leaves and twigs, the sap is carefully strained before flowing into the evaporator, and the boiling-house of a good sugar maker is scrupulously neat.

    The sap of the maple tree, before exposure to light and air, is as colorless as water. By exposure it becomes colored a little, but if it were possible to keep the sap from light and air and boil it in a vacuum, the resultant syrup would be as clear as water.
    This condition is, however, not practicable, nor is it wholly desirable, for, to Vermont people at least, there is no more beautiful harmony of color than the straw shade of the syrup and the browned surface of a good griddlecake.
    The aim of the sugar makers is, nevertheless, to turn out syrup of as light color as possible, and when the product resembles in tint corn syrup or other similar commodities, it is fair to assume that the maker has not been as particular about cleanliness in gathering and boiling as could be wished.

    The bulk of the maple sap gathered in Vermont is made into syrup, which is more easily marketed and yields a better return than sugar. There is a good amount of the latter, however, its manufacture entailing simply an extension of the boiling process for the elimination of more water from the sap.
    A gallon of pure maple syrup of the proper consistency weighs eleven pounds. If it weighs more the syrup is too thick and will crystallize, while if it weighs less it is "slushy."

    Vermont furnishes from a quarter to a third of the annual maple sugar crop of the United States, and a tenth of the syrup. The country's crop approximates 45,000,000 pounds. The bulk is made in six states--Vermont, New York, Ohio, Michigan and New Hampshire, named in the order of their output. These furnish 95 per cent. of the sugar and mroe than 80 per cent. of the syrup.

    No maple sugar is made south of 35 deg. latitude or west of 95 deg. longitude. Vermont gets for her annual crop about $750,000. Three-fifths of her product comes from the five northern counties, and a quarter from the four southern ones, [where] three-fourths of the entire make comes from Windham county, in which Wilmington lies, in the southeastern part of the state...
 
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