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Living in a World of Maple


by Bette Lambert

Solar-powered sugarhouse
Solar-powered sugarhouse

Welcome to my world.

As a child, at sugaring time on our farm, I shared the thrills of riding on the gathering sled, clutching the edge of the strainer to stay on, as the bulldozer lurched over hummocks in the sugarwoods. When the sap tank was full, we were apt to be drenched as it overflowed. This was my world, and made the homes of my friends, in the village, seem tame in comparison.

My dad was patient, as we frequented the dinner pail back in the sugar house, asking him to open the door of the arch so we could roast our hotdogs on the roaring fire. And then again for marshmallows. I never got the feeling that we were a bother. He never let on, telling our visitors over and over again about the syrup making process, from start to finish. He scooped up some syrup to show how it “aprons” when done, and gave everyone a little cup of hot, new syrup. We all took a turn holding up the grading kit to the light in the window, to see what grade the drawn off syrup was. Dad was proud to make the very lightest, and would be surprised to see how many choose the “robust” grade these days. As I got older, he would proudly tell visitors, “Bette’s my right-hand man!”

Out-of-town relatives come, calling first to see if the sap is running. Strangers stop down at the side of the road, braving the mud, and coming in to tell about how their fathers used to sugar.  Many times the company carries some armfuls of wood in from the woodshed, sharing that unending task.

Boiling the sap in the evaporator. Photo by Jack Powell.
Boiling the sap in the evaporator. Photo by Jack Powell.

The sugar house is always open for visitors, as a small ad announces in the local paper. Neighbors might stop by later in the evening, and stand around comparing their production with ours. The old sugar house had a couch and recliner, and lots of coats for sleepy little ones to snuggle under. A group of high school students came for several years from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had a great time riding on the gathering sled through the woods and trying their hand at emptying the buckets and wallowing through the deep snow. Busses of local school children come as well, lining up for paper cups of first, sap, and then hot, new syrup to sample. A tapping demonstration and talk of how the sap progresses through the evaporator is exciting to them. Then they go upstairs to enjoy sugar on snow, pickles and raised doughnuts. What a magnificent place, enveloped in clouds of steam, looking down on the big evaporator. I watch them and wonder if one will be bitten by the “sugaring bug”.

When I married, my new husband, from Minnesota, had not even seen maple sugaring.  Many nights I would milk, and across the pasture to the north, he would boil. Our little ones ran in between, giving me reports of how much their daddy had drawn off. As our six children grew up, they joined our passion for sugaring, walking with us through the woods, installing new lines of tubing, taking over the boiling, and making the finest maple syrup, cream and candies. How I enjoy listening to them explain the process, start to finish, with pride and excitement, when visitors come to see the sugar house. My husband often said, “Our work is their greatest play.”

Many folks visit our new, solar-powered sugar house. There is an interest now in all renewable resources, which we have always had. The waste wood from our logging operation is burned in our traditionally wood fired arch. The sugar bush is thinned and cared for to promote the healthiest trees. There is a second floor platform in the new sugar house, giving a spectacular view of the boiling.

Visitors bask in the clouds of steam, and love the photography opportunity. We participate in the state of Vermont Open Sugar House weekend, with samples of maple products and treats like big old-fashioned raised doughnuts with hot syrup and hot dogs boiled in sap. This summer, a chamber of commerce tour enjoyed a maple sugar covered nuts demonstration, and watched David tap a maple stump with an old fashioned brace and bit, and then with a battery drill. Tourists are welcome to walk out into the sugarwoods, and see the grid of tubing running between the trees.

Yes, we always hope to sell some syrup and other maple products, but we also have a passion for sharing our passion — the pure, delicious products we make, our love for farming, the unpredictability, weather challenges, family. There are 24 of us, counting little ones, living along a stretch of mile-long dirt road between the sugar house and the dairy farm. “Can you milk tonight? Can you bring more coffee to the sugar house? Where’s Mom?” Someone always is able to fill in a need, or a want.

Welcome to my world — where one day you might find me checking sap lines, another, making maple candy, or some late night, listening to the rolling boil in the sugar house. Visitors are welcome!

Silloway Maple is located at 1303 Boudro Rd. in Randolph Center. For more information about the farm, call 272-6249 or email info@sillowaymaple.com.