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Everything's sticky

03/22/02 12:00AM By Edith Hunter

The steering wheel on the car, the latches on the four doors going into the kitchen, the knobs on the electric stove, the floor in front of the stove, the floor in front of the sink and even the faucets in the sink, everything is sticky.

It's maple sugar time and I'm busy making maple syrup in my little sugarhouse and finishing it off in the kitchen. I figure this is my 45th year in production. I started when we moved to New Hampshire to a wonderful old house surrounded by sugar maples. I believe the children and I started modestly with about 10 taps with small pails for buckets.

When we moved to Vermont in 1969, within a year or two Armstrong and helpers had built a dandy little sugarhouse sensibly placed right beside the driveway to the barn. With buckets and covers from a farmer friend who had moved mostly to pipeline, I expanded my operation to between 15 and 52 taps, depending on the available help in any given year.

My faithful old Subaru wagon is essential to collecting. With two 20 gallon plastic tubs and two gathering pails in back, I drive to the eight trees on the west side of the house, handsome old maples that have shared their life blood with at least four generations of Vermonters. Then up the driveway to the remaining ten trees, most of which have two buckets, to fill my gathering tanks to capacity. The offerings from the trees around the sugarhouse we carry directly to the large plastic barrels inside.

Within a matter of minutes I have a roaring fire in the pan which I had flooded when finishing the day before. My rig has been in service all these years. It was made by a local blacksmith, a six foot long pan with four channels, sitting on an oil drum lined with fire brick. My preheater, a small reservoir, sits across the back of the evaporator with a pipe running down into the pan. After a two-hour boil, I scoop out the almost ready syrup, strain it through a couple of felts, load it into the Subaru, and take it to the house. I divide what will be a gallon of finished syrup into two large pots and finish it off on the electric stove. I test it with my hydrometer, see what grade I have made, let it cool to bottling temperature, and can it.

This has been a wonderful year so far. We were all off to an early start. Graham tapped out 36 taps on February 24th. My neighbor, big time producer Willis Wood, got me to try some of the smaller spouts this year, less damaging to the trees. There seems to be no difference in the flow. By March 17th I had made 11 gallons of almost all Fancy grade. In three hours and a half I can make a gallon of syrup - two hours and a quarter in the sugar house, and one hour and a quarter finishing off and canning in the kitchen.

I can always wipe up the stickyness when the season is over.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

--Edith Hunter is a writer and historian who lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.
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