Reprint of “Maple Sugaring”in
    Newfield: Notes From Shady Nook
                          by Mary Quinn Doyle, 1994
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The Native Americans in Maine and in other areas were involved in tapping the maple trees long before settlers arrived in our country.  The proper climatic conditions in parts of Vermont, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, and West Virginia encouraged Native Americans to pursue maple sugaring.

Traders and trappers communicated often about their encounters with Native Americans who offered them maple treats as a sign of friendship.  Several written accounts of the 1600’s and 1700’s state that the Native Americans cut slashes in the barks of black or hard maple with sharpened sticks and collected the sap and stored it in large elm bark troughs.  They conducted several ceremonial dances to scare away the “frigid winds” that could appear during that time of year.  Several books describe the many celebrations which accompanied the sap gathering among the Native Americans and how they spoke of the “maple moon” and the “maple month.”

Jeff Brown of the Maine State Archives was helpful in locating information about maple syrup production in Newfield in 1879.  In the 1880 Agricultural Census of Maine, Newfield was listed as having eleven households which produced maple syrup for their own use or for sale.  Maple sugar production in Newfield was divided into the categories of sorghum and maple molasses.

In 1994, Thelma Weymouth discussed how tapping for maple syrup was conducted by just about every family in Newfield in the early 1900’s.  Many households boiled down maple syrup right on their kitchen stove, although all the steam often wreaked havoc on wallpaper and household belongings.  Weymouth’s father, James Bridges, sold maple syrup for $1.25 a gallon in the spring of 1923 to the Parson’s Store at Blaisdell Corner in Lebanon.  Clayone Weymouth’s father sold even more maple syrup from his farm in Parsonsfield.  They actually had four sap pans running at one time on a fire constructed outside on two gigantic arches.  Because of the quality he produced, he could sell maple syrup for a dollar a gallon.  The syrup was sold in one-gallon rectangular cans.

For those who feel that the price of maple syrup might be somewhat high, it is significant to understand that an incredible amount of work goes into its production.  Each tree which is utilized has to have a small hole (less than one-half inch in diameter) drilled into it to put the spile (or sap spout or spigot).  A sap bucket is placed on the sap spout.  This bucket requires a hat or cover to protect the sap from debris.

The sap needs to be collected soon after it fills the bucket or it can spoil.  The buckets need to be emptied into a gathering tank.  While photographing the Bryants collecting sap last year, this writer quickly learned the phenomenal amount of physical effort that is involved in the transporting of the sap from the trees into the holding tank.  Just imagine the strength needed to walk several hundred feet through deep snow with two (and sometimes even three) buckets filled with sap.  Each bucket weighs approximately forty pounds by the way.  The contents of the tank then have to be transferred into the sugar house.  The equipment found in a commercial syrup operation can be quite an investment.  Large evaporators can easily cost several thousand dollars.

In addition to the physical effort involved in maple sugaring, an enormous amount of time must be appropriated.  An individual must attend to the fire.  It takes approximately one-quarter of a cord of wood to boil down every four gallons of syrup.  The attendant of the evaporator must be alert to such factors as skimming the sap, controlling temperatures, and knowing when to stop the boiling process.  In modern times, sap producers usually use thermometers and hydrometers to measure the temperature and thickness and heaviness of the sap.  The syrup needs to be strained through a filter to remove the sugar sand before it is placed in sterilized containers.  If all the factors discussed above do not justify the expense of maple syrup, perhaps a convincing case can be made simply from the well-known fact that it takes about thirty-five to forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Some maple syrup producers boil the sap even further than the seven degrees above the boiling point that produces maple syrup.  Sap boiled to twenty degrees above the boiling point of water and then quickly cooled to room temperature yields maple chew.  Maple fudge can be made from sap boiled twenty-two degrees above the boiling point of water, and then cooled to one hundred and sixty degrees.  Maple cream or maple butter is achieved by boiling twenty-six degrees above the boiling point of water and then being cooled rapidly to seventy degrees.

Any readers wishing to understand the scientific reasons behind the running of the sap will hopefully understand the simplified explanation which follows.  Each summer, the combination of sun and the air and the water from the soil creates a chemical in the roots, trunk, and branches of the tree which is called glucose.  The glucose is stored in the roots and the trunk of the tree throughout the winter.  When the weather becomes warmer, the sap with the glucose begins to “rise.”  As the glucose “rises”  or travels through the tree, it turns to a sugar called sucrose.  Maple sugar is made from this sucrose.  As most readers are certainly aware, the requirements for sap to run include clear, warm days in the spring before the buds open, and cool nights.  The flow of sap is affected by such factors as wind, storms, temperature, amount of light, and the location of the tree.

Hilltop Boilers of Newfield was founded by brothers Michael and Mark Bryant in 1984.  At present, Michael is an industrial technology teacher and Mark is an automotive technician.  Their business has grown incredibly over the years.  They tap about seven hundred trees in the Limerick and Newfield area.  Due to their commitments with teaching and school, a great deal of their work with the syrup business involves afternoon and late evening chores.  Working until two o’clock in the morning, when the sap is running strong, is not unusual at all.

When the snow is deep, the work of gathering sap is much more difficult.  Accessibility to the taps is often quite challenging.  Carrying the buckets of sap back to the holding tanks in snowshoes can make the job quite arduous.

For the past eleven years, the Maine Maple Producers Association has sponsored a celebration of the sugar season with Maine Maple Sunday at many sugar houses in the area on the fourth Sunday in March.  About 1,300 people attended the Open House at the Bryant’s Hilltop Boilers in 1993.  Many families indicated that their visit has become an annual ritual.  Not only do the Bryants conduct tours of the facility, they offer door prizes, close-up views of the their farm animals (including their six Scottish Highlanders) and pancakes and pale syrup in the morning and ice cream and maple syrup in the afternoon.

Sugar Hill, the maple syrup operation of Ashley Gerry should also bring a source of pride to out town.  The work that he has accomplished single-handedly in building his maple syrup business is truly impressive considering the fact that he is only eighteen years of age.  He handles all the responsibilities of the business including the ordering of supplies, the accounting, marketing, and physical labor, etc.  He is a member of the Maine Maple Producers Association and enjoyed attending their annual meeting.  Gerry also has about seven hundred taps.  Over a mile-and-a-half of gravity-fed U.S. maple tubing is involved with four hundred of them. He uses buckets for the other three hundred.  In 1994, he ran a 1600-foot gravity-fed line from the orchard to the sap house.  He is experimenting with state-of-the-art technology with his new vacuum system with a pump which facilitates the gathering of sap on days that it would normally not run.

Gerry is also working on plans to develop a regular sugarbush (a grove of sugar maple trees).  When asked why he became interested in the endeavor, he explained that he enjoyed being out in the woods.  He said that it was a nostalgic tradition that put him in touch with the public.  Although he explained that there was not a lot of money earned from the business, he also enjoyed the practice of designing and making a lot of his equipment.  Maine Maple Producers Association Ted Greene praised Gerry for his business and predicted that he would “go places in the industry.”  At the age of eighteen, he is one of the youngest owners of a maple syrup business in Maine.

The history of maple sugaring and the maple syrup in our country is a fascinating field to explore.  For readers who wish more information on the topic, the following books are excellent sources: Sugar Bush Antiques by Virginia Vidler and the Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott nearing.

Collecting various maple syrup items has become quite popular these days.  Some individuals enjoy collecting maple syrup containers whether they are bottles, tins, jugs, sugar jars, buckets, pans, or kettles.  Collectors search for different spouts that have been used over the years, as well as bucket hooks, and shoulder yokes.  Different molds that have been utilized are also considered desirable.

Other individuals are attracted to the art work, whether it be paintings or prints or photographs that have concentrated on the maple sugaring season.  For some, there’s nothing more exciting than locating a new maple recipe.  Two maple recipe books which Marion Bryant enjoys are Vermont Maple Recipes by Mary Pearl and Sugarhouse Treats by the Vermont Maple Festival Council, Inc.

Newfielders are fortunate to have fresh maple syrup available for sale right in town from the Bryants or Ashley Gerry.  When you drive along the roads in Newfield, it is not unusual to see some other families tapping their trees and producing some small amounts of syrup for their own personal use.  It is interesting to observe that this tradition of gathering sap from the maples begun long ago by the Native Americans is still enjoyed in our town.

References for this 1994 Maple Sugaring article:

1880 Agricultural Census of Maine

Vermont Maple Recipes by Mary Pearl

Sugarhouse Treats by the Vermont Maple Festival Council, Inc.

The Maple Sugar Book by Helen and Scott Nearing

Sugar Bush Antiques by Virginia Vidler

It is interesting to go back and read an article about maple sugaring in Newfield in 1994 that appeared in the book:  Newfield: Notes From Shady Nook.  Both Hilltop Boilers and Sugar Hill Maple House have dramatically expanded their operations.  Harry and Deb Hartford’s entrance into the maple syrup world with Thurston and Peters Sugar House did not occur until 2007, thirteen years after this article appeared in the book about Newfield.

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