The forecast for the weather today is very mild – they say in the 40’s. When that happens in January I always start thinking about maple sugaring. Bill and I sugar with our friends Russ and Carmen in the next town over. We do it because it is a really fun time (most of the time) and gives you a real sense of accomplishment. Russell and his son started laying the pipeline last weekend. Things will be ready when the time comes to tap the trees.
The photograph above was the sugar house that was in the back of the house in Rowe. There are still remnants of the metal equipment that they used out in the wood lot although I confess I personally have not seen them. I’ve walked to that area a few times but what was once a sugarbush is now over grown with huge pine trees.
In the middle to late 1800’s there was a lot of maple sugar made on Fort Pelham Farm. The first record of it was in the 1860 Farm Census where 700 lbs of sugar was recorded for that year. 1860 holds the record for the most maple sugar ever made in the U.S. One of the reasons being this was the ramp up to the civil war and people were boycotting cane sugar due to slavery. They replaced a lot of that cane sugar with maple. In 1870 they produced 300 pounds and in 1880 they produced 450. I am assuming that pounds of sugar was both syrup and sugar but it may have all been sugar. Until 1860 there were only wooden spouts to tap the trees and iron pots to boil the sap in. The process involved a number of pots at various stages of boiling so instead of having an automated draw down to syrup as we have today they were manually transferring sap from pot to pot until it reach the sugar stage that they were looking for. When I read that 700 lbs. of sugar was made it came as a huge surprise just considering the amount of work that is involve.
So I decided to do some math.
On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup. One tap hole in each maple tree gives 10 gallons of sap in an average year. So, 4 maple trees, 40 to 200 years old, are needed to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. Some trees have more than one tap but all should be over 10 inches in diameter.
Maple sap is 2% sugar and weighs 8.35 lbs. per gallon.
Maple syrup is 66.9% sugar and weighs 11 lbs per gallon.
One gallon of maple syrup makes 7 lbs of maple sugar.
All I can say is wow. The best year we ever had was 2 years ago because it was a long season. We made 130 gallons of syrup. We had 1,000 taps on pipeline and about 200 buckets. We used a reverse osmosis rig to take a lot of the water out of the sap before we even started to boil it. We burn slabs from a local sawmill and the fire is stoked every 4 minutes – yes, every 4 minutes. I’m not sure how much wood we burned.
They were just using buckets to catch the sap. Each bucket had to be emptied at least once a day by a person, stored and boiled. They must have been boiling 24 hours a day everyday throughout the season. At the time on the farm they had two oxen which I’m sure were worked gathering sap. Fortunately the season is short.
Then I remembered a conversation Bill and I had a couple of weeks ago about the amount of wood it would have taken to heat the house. We figured anywhere from 15 to 20 cord a year. Add to that whatever they needed to make maple sugar and these men had to have been doing nothing but cutting wood year round – with saws, axes and mauls and those oxen. This is why they tell you that you could see to the ocean from Western Mass. Every tree had been cut down and burned by the time 1880 came around, that’s when people began burning coal.
People always ask me why the price of syrup is so high and I always tell them how much work is involved in it. I don’t think we even get enough to justify any of our time, we do it because we love it. I can’t imagine thinking it was fun half way through the season in 1860.