History of East Hill Farm: Maple Sugaring
What a journey the past 74 years have been! From the early days of housing only 30 guests, to our current capacity of 140, we have been fortunate to meet and make many lifelong friends that call East Hill Farm their home away from home. You are truly our extended Farm family!
The Inn at East Hill Farm will be celebrating our 75th Anniversary during the weekend of February 4-6, 2022. As with all celebrations, it is more fun to have your friends and loved ones to celebrate with. Please mark your calendars and consider joining us for this momentous occasion!
We will be sharing photos, behind the scenes, and fun stories in a series of monthly blog, Instagram, and Facebook posts leading up to the celebration. While the Inn’s history dates to 1772, we are focusing on what it has been since right after WWII, an agritourism destination.
In this month’s installment, we are going to take a trip down memory lane with an excerpt from a story published by Grandpa Jim (Parker Whitcomb’s father) in the March 1969 edition of New England Homestead, titled, “Maple Sugaring in the Old Days”. While the story is from Grandpa Jim’s younger years, the photos are from the 1950 and ‘60s from the time when Parker was running the Inn.
“Up in the northeast part of our farm, there’s quite a few nice rock maples quite close together where you could set around seventy-five buckets. There was a small sugar house with a brick chimney and a stone arch that held an iron pan about five feet long by two and a half wide and around eight inches deep. At the end of the arch, next to the chimney, was a place for a large iron kettle that the cold sap went into and when it was hot, the hot sap was dipped out and put into the big pan. Everything was done by hand. Just outside the sugar house, near the iron kettle, was a large tank to hold the sap and that did have a pipe running into the sugar house, so one could turn a valve and draw the sap into a pail and empty it into the kettle.
In my early days, when my brother was home, as soon as it looked as though sugaring time had arrived, he and Dad would go up to the sugar house and start a fire, heat water in the kettle, wash out the buckets and get things ready. On the first warm day they would start putting out the buckets. When I was big enough, I used to help carry the buckets! Sometimes the snow would be quite deep and gathering the sap wasn’t quite so much fun unless you had snowshoes. We had what we called a sap yoke, made out of a pine plank hollowed out to fit your shoulders. It was about three feet long with a rope tied on each end and tied to a wooden hook that you hung a pail to. If the snow was deep and you didn’t have snowshoes on, and there was a crust on the snow, you might be walking along with two full pails of sap when all of a sudden, one foot would break through the crust. You’d be lucky not to spill the sap.
All of our sap had to be carried to the sugar house by hand as it didn’t pay to try to gather with the horses. When the sap started running good and the tank was full, Dad or my brother would start the fire and begin to “boil down”. That was when the exciting time started, to watch the sap start to boil in the pan. Soon the sugar house would fill with steam and the smell of maple syrup. Sometimes the sap in the pan would boil so fast that it would start to boil over the edge of the pan. To stop it, they put in two to three small pieces of salt pork. Now they have a salt shaker filled with cream and just a few drops will stop the sap from boiling over the edge of the evaporator.
Nearly every year sugaring time would be before our school started, and I could help. What good times we used to have! The sugar bush was about a quarter a mile from home so we would carry our dinner. Sometimes when we boiled down late at night, my Dad would usually stay to tend things. Then Mother and my sister might come up, bringing our supper, and stay and eat with us. How well I can remember those nights sitting there with just the light of the fire and a lantern, waiting for the time to come when the syrup was ready to take off and start for home.
Sometimes Mother would bring us fresh doughnuts and we would take some of the hot sap and have it with the doughnuts. That reminds me – sometimes we used to boil eggs in the sap and have them for lunch. Mother used to finish off the syrup on the kitchen stove. Then she would put it in glass cans and put it in the cupboard in the cellar. She always boiled some down until it formed soft sugar, and that was put in a stone jar. On baking days when she baked bread, how we used to like to have a couple of slices of hot bread, spread with homemade butter, then spread with a good layer of the soft sugar. Makes my mouth water just to think of it!
Nearly every Spring, a few days after we were through sugaring, all the neighbors that made sugar would get together and have what they called a sugaring-off party and they would invite the other neighbors. I don’t know just why, but they usually had the party at our house. They would start off with a supper of home-cured baked ham and scalloped potatoes, hot biscuits, always a pitcher of maple syrup to go with the biscuits; with fresh doughnuts and coffee for older folks and milk for the young people. When you had eaten just about all you could hold, they would clear off the tables and bring on dishes of sour pickles and dishes of hot syrup that had been boiled down so it would form candy when it was poured onto pans of snow.
After you had your fill of that, you had a dish of the hot syrup. If you stirred it long enough it would form hard candy, but by that time you would have lost your appetite for maple sugar. After it was all over, the men would play cards. After things were cleaned up, the ladies would start making maple sugar candy that they would donate to the church to sell when the church people had their Maple Sugar Supper every spring. That supper was very much the same as the ones the neighbors used to have, always starting off with baked ham and scalloped potatoes. That was the one church affair that always brought out a good crowd.
Wonder how many of you readers have ever attended a church sugaring off supper?”
If you are looking for a delicious way to use some pure maple syrup, try this popular recipe from the kitchen at East Hill Farm.
Stay tuned… as we venture into the 1960s next month.
Post submitted by Holly LeClair
I am so enjoying these little pieces of history of our home away from home!
We are happy you are enjoying the posts. We are having a lot of fun putting them together!
I love maple syrup and I love my Grandpa Jim.
Grandpa Jim was a wonderful man. I am happy to have known him and spend time with him when I was a young girl.