The first bright leaves appear incongruously on a hot, early August afternoon in the yard at Silloway’s sugarhouse. Just a couple miles south of the apple orchard at Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center, Mondays are a good time to chat with Bette (Silloway) Lambert and her daughter Marilyn as they pack mail orders and make maple sugar. These two women are the powerhouses behind the marketing and production of the myriad maple goods on display at this maple palace. Not an exaggeration, the wood-fired arch gleams amidst the high ceilings and catwalk of this stunning structure. And it is not just a showcase, it is a working environment. Wood stacked in the yard attests to the fact that all the sap produced on Silloway Farm is boiled to syrup solely by wood. The 22,000-tap sugarwoods is managed by Marilyn’s brother, Paul, with the help of many family members and neighbors. Late winter and springtime find the whole family at work. Not just sugaring, either. Bette’s brother David owns and operates a 65-cow organic dairy at the age of 77. You get the feeling that work ethic matters to this old Vermont family.
Marilyn and I both agree that there is something special about growing up on a Vermont family farm. My Grandpa Clarence and her Grandpa Wayne both made maple butternut fudge and instilled in both of us an appreciation of the delectable butternut. Marilyn assures me that the butternut cracker designed by her Grandpa is still in existence, mounted on a dynamite box, somewhere in the attic. Wayne and Louise (nee Brazier, yes, the East Montpelier Braziers) came to this valley on one cold January day in the 1930s. Wayne had been, up to this point, the gardener at the old Heaton House hospital farm, where most of the food for the hospital was produced. The old farmhouse they had just bought had frozen pipes and was, in Marilyn’s words, ‘dilapidated’. Decades of hard work and ‘Silloway determination’ laid the groundwork for their present prosperity, which is so evident from the beautiful valley on Boudro and South Randolph roads. A rewarding afternoon may be had in the autumn at the Vermont Technical College orchard, incorporating a visit to the Silloway sugarhouse for the ‘BEST’ maple creemee; (but not on Monday, so I will have to go back sometime from Wednesday to Sunday to determine the veracity of that claim.)
One need not, however, drive to Randolph to find Silloway maple products. Each Saturday, Bette Lambert (once in a while, Marilyn) holds forth at the Capital City Farmers Market in Montpelier. If you ask, she might tell you about one of her ancestors who designed the dome on the nearby statehouse. They can be found at the Stowe and Burlington farmers markets as well. For several years, they have donated the syrup for the Montpelier market’s sugar-on-snow party (cancelled in 2020, and ’21 as well, hopefully ’22 will see its revival). There are lots of options for buying maple syrup in Vermont, indeed, large corporations have exceeded the million tap mark. Silloway maple is the ‘real deal’ — genuine Vermont family farmers with roots deep in Vermont’s rocky soil. Their products taste of the hard work that goes into them. And you can still get maple candy at their stand at the market … sans butternuts, which have become rare.