Sugaring Season

Join this Vermont family for a 24-hour glimpse into the short, intense sugaring season.

Get the recipe for Bette's Maple Granola below.

SM2

SM2

Solar panels supply all of the electrical power for the sugarhouse.

Vacuum-assisted tubing carries sap 
to gathering tanks.

Paul Lambert checks the syrup’s progress with a hydrometer.

Get the recipe for Bette's Maple Granola below.Solar panels supply all of the electrical power for the sugarhouse.Vacuum-assisted tubing carries sap 
to gathering tanks.Paul Lambert checks the syrup’s progress with a hydrometer.

Photos by Jeff Schneiderman

 

My father and mother, Paul and Louise Silloway, started a dairy farm and maple sugar operation on this land in the early 1940s. Back then, sap buckets were hung on a spout tapped into a hole drilled in each tree. A team of horses broke a road through the deep snow and pulled the collection tank on a wooden sled. In 1979, Dad was even featured in a Farm & Ranch Living farmer-to-farmer article, and we received wonderful letters from farmers all around the country.

Today, Silloway Maple taps 6,200 trees, with tubing running from each tree into vacuum-powered collection systems. Some of the trees have been tapped every year since my dad started sugaring 75 years ago. Sugaring season lasts only a few short, intense weeks in the spring, and we make the most of every run.

9 p.m. The forecast calls for mid-20s overnight, rising to the high 30s with wet snow tomorrow. Off to bed. Our maple trees are tapped, and we’ve been waiting for temperatures to climb above freezing to make the sap run. Our motto is “Silloway Maple, It Runs in the Family,” and it truly does.

My brothers, my sister and I grew up working on the farm, and we especially loved sugaring time. My son Paul manages the sugaring operation, along with his brother, David, who will be joining the business full time after college. The little ones love to roast hot dogs on a fire at the sugarhouse and get into Daddy’s dinner pail. They’re well on their way to loving maple sugaring season just as we did.

I make the value-added maple products, ship website orders and sell at farmers markets. My older brother, David, fills the woodshed in the fall, and his wife, Lynne, helps with sales. Their son John hauls sap between dairy chores. Babies and all, 24 family members live along this mile of dirt road.

3 a.m. John and Paul head to the dairy barn to feed and milk our 65 Holsteins. The air is cold and crisp.

8 a.m. Big, wet snowflakes fill the warming air—a sugar snow! The children eagerly stand on tiptoe to check the buckets on the trees in the dooryard. “Sap’s running fast!” they call out, racing into the kitchen, where we’re having maple sticky buns with our coffee.

We use syrup for pancakes and waffles, of course. But we also use syrup and granulated sugar instead of refined sugar in much of our baking. Maple sugar has many natural minerals and antioxidants, and it’s lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners. I enjoy making old family recipes like my mother’s maple baked beans, but it’s fun to try new ones too. Part of my job is posting on our Facebook page and website. Food photos are a favorite!

9 a.m. John is back in the barn feeding the cows, and Paul and David are snowshoeing through the woods, checking miles of lines. Deer, squirrels, porcupines, woodpeckers, falling branches, and freezing and thawing can all damage the tubing, so maintaining the lines is a continuous job during sap runs.

11 a.m. When the load of sap arrives at the sugarhouse, it is processed through the reverse osmosis machine. Raw sap is only 1.5 to 3.5 percent sweet, and it takes an average of 50 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. Reverse osmosis removes much of the water, reducing boiling time and fuel consumption.

1 p.m. Clouds of maple-scented steam roll up from the boiling sap in the evaporator to escape through flaps in the roof. Sometimes it’s so dense you can’t see through it!

The sap travels through flues from the back pan to the front, where it is tested for density and drawn off. Boiling is an intense job that requires Paul’s constant attention. “Not a job for a nervous man!” my dad liked to say. Get distracted for a few seconds, and syrup in the pans can scorch, ruining the batch.

We fire the evaporator with wood, but 70 solar panels on the roof supply the electric power for our new sugarhouse, as well as nearly half the energy for our dairy farm a mile down the road.

The finished syrup is graded according to strict Vermont standards, then filtered. The lightest colored and most subtly flavored syrup—Golden Color/Delicate Flavor—is made early in the season when the weather is coldest. The syrup darkens and takes on a more pronounced maple flavor as the season progresses, moving from Amber Color/Rich Flavor to Dark Color/Robust Flavor. At the end of the season we make what is called Very Dark Color/Strong Flavor, which we use for baked beans and so on.

We can the syrup in jugs, from half-pint to gallon sizes, as well as in decorative bottles shaped like glass leaves. We also make silky-smooth maple cream, granulated sugar, candy leaves and maple almonds.

11 p.m. Paul and David are still cleaning up, but I head for home. The muddy ruts outside the sugarhouse are stiff and frozen under my feet. Looks like it’ll be cold enough to start another run tomorrow.

Bette’s Maple Granola

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