Every late February into March sugar season, or “sugar time” happens around New England.
One of my happiest memories as a girl was going out in the woods to help tap the maple trees and collect the sap. The forests still had some snow, but it was starting to melt and the snow was wet. Sugar time started when the days would get longer and warmer, but it would freeze up at night.
The horses would draw a sled with a big container and we would go around the woods and empty the sap buckets. Some of the grown-ups would wear a yoke, and carry buckets from places where the horses couldn’t go. According to the old folks, Indians taught the settlers how to tap maple trees and make syrup.
Men, women and kids all helped out collecting the sap and stirring the boiling sap into maple syrup in the “Sugar Shack.” The basin cooking the sap was heated by a wood fire, so lots of freshly cut wood was stacked nearby. The smells were glorious! The syrup, the fire, the tang from the evergreens, the sharp scent of freshly cut wood and comforting smell of the horses are so a part of those memories.
The best part of the day was at the end, when we would have a big “sugar on snow” party. Big tubs of snow were brought in the house and the freshly made syrup was heated over the stove. Everyone would dip their forks in the syrup and sprinkle it over the snow. The result was a taffy we would roll up on our fork.
The kids were given the dregs of the syrup and we used them to make our own maple syrup candy cards. Sometimes we sprinkled walnuts or butternuts in them, making them extra special.
Sugaring goes on today pretty much the same way it did when I was a girl in 1950’s Vermont, although now maybe folks use a tractor instead of a horse-drawn sled.