The Good Kind of Sap in the Blue Hills

March 13th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Maple sugar days in the Blue Hills seems a seasonal surprise year after year. Our bodies and minds may know better but we associate sap collection and syrup making with the fall. Don’t try to convince the maples of that; they insist on making lots of new sap ever spring.

It’s been a few years since we visited the Brookwood Farm just east of Houghton’s Pond for this annual event. We did it again today and a few of my snaps of it follow. Click on a thumbnail for a little larger view.

It’s very New England and simple fun. In warning, if you truly hate small kids, don’t go. I don’t show them here other than a straggler on a vintage tractor, but the big field there was rife with kindergarten and primary lads and lasses, squealing, using hula hoops and such. This is for adults and wee ones. There’s hot dogs, hot chocolate, popcorn and such for purchase and a mini-greenhouse let people leave with a few flower seeds in a plastic pot ready for germination. You would get more here for your $6 than at the early-bird showing of a typical movie.

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Visit and learn that any maple can make sap usable for syrup. Unsurprisingly, sugar maples have the highest concentration in the sap. The buckets hand on spiles (taps) driven into drilled holes. Each can collect up to 15 or more gallons and up to 50 gallons are needed to produce each gallon of syrup. The cover minimizes the leaf, bark and bug residue.
Maple sugaring is about the only agricultural technique (maybe other than tossing a fish with seeds for fertilizer) that the Native Americans taught the Colonists. They did not have metal pots and went through elaborate evaporation rituals like one reenacted for this festival. Drop hot rocks from a fire into a pit of sap in a log to reduce the mixture. Hey, no TV, video games or internet, and there was time for lots of productive activities. sugarrocks
sugarpot The Colonists shortened the cycle with pots to precipitate sugar from the sap. Another reenactor does the easier version.
The sugar hut at the farm is one of the fancier ones available. Many only get about two or three weeks of use a year and are just shacks. This one is in it for the long haul and is the demo kitchen for the festival. The large evaporator inside uses wood fire. sugarsmoke
sugarinside The open roof vents keep the smoke and steam from filling the room inside the shack.
Demonstrators by the Leader evaporator explain the process, show the many colors of syrup and answer questions. The palest (or fancy) A grade syrup comes from the first sap. Residue in the equipment produces darker syrups, down five levels of As to B, which is much earthier and some think better tasting. You can use a deeper sap pan and cook it longer to get the darker version as well. Visit the shack to sample the day’s production. sugarevaporator
sugarjam Outside, the Sometimers performed acoustic folk music. A dozen played for a couple of hours.
Nearby, a lumberjack sort showed log chopping and rough work in making huge beams. Here, another woodworker sat and guided adults and kids through shaping techniques. sugarwood
sugartractor The kids seemed most interested in crawling all over a couple of small antique tractors.
As befitting a farm, a few imported animals hung about. A couple of chickens were in a coop and two very wide rams lolled in the sun — they were wearing wool after all. Here, DCR horse Mike was available for petting. sugarmike


2 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    Speaking as a) someone who did this as a kid and b) someone whose brother still does this for a living…kids, go to Blue Hills. Do *not* try this at home.

  2. Harrumpher says:

    Haar, I think between the re-enactors and the guys in the sugar shack, they concur. They’re quick to speak of time and energy, as well as 24-hour cycles when the sap is running, and the likelihood of sudden stoppage of all sap. Since seeing these in Vermont and here, I’m much happier to pay for the juice.

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