Spring time and maple syrup, also know as sugaring, have been part of the Vermont landscape ever since the Eastern Woodland Indians discovered that maple sap cooked over an open fire produces sugar.
This year, with zero degrees nights, and below freezing temperatures during the day, many have wondered if this is unusual and if we’ll even have a sugar season. According to Barbara Kingsbury’s book “Chubb Hill Farm and Cavendish, Vermont: A Family and Town History 1876-1960,” sugar season fluctuated from year to year for the Kingsbury family. From 1879 until 1949 Homer Kingsbury and his descendants’ records showed a great fluctuation in production, weather, length of season as well a pricing. In 1877, the price of a gallon was. 80¢. and by 1948, it had risen to $5 a gallon. Below is a sampling of sugaring on the Kingsbury Farm, located on Chubb Hill Road:
1877: Homer sent maple syrup to other parts of the state and Boston by train. He sold a gallon of maple syrup for .80¢ to Boston merchants.
1879: Produced 800 pounds of sugar and 40 gallons of syrup
1890: Boston merchants Blake and Ripley wrote to Homer saying, “The market has been quite well supplied and Syrup has been selling from 75 to 90 cents but we were able to get $1.00 for yours, on account of its excellent quality.”
1891: Blake and Ripley again wrote to Homer stating, “We think we can sell all your neighbors can send, if it is of as good quality as yours, at a good price also. Your goods have a reputation on this market of which you may be justly proud, as is proved by the price.” A gallon of Homer’s syrup retailed for $1.10.
1934: Alfred Kingsbury, Homer’s son, sold 14 gallons of syrup to First National Store in Ludlow at $1.23 per gallon.
1935: The Spauldings produced more maple syrup than most of their neighbors, averaging 2400 taps.
1936: Heavy snow in January and February. Alfred sugared in March. Grade A syrup now sold for $1.50 a gallon.
1937: In March, Alfred and his boys tapped a total of 557 buckets with a gallon now costing $1.75
1938: A good year for sugaring. Produced a great deal of Fancy and Grade A syrup. The price of Grade A was now $2 a gallon.
1941: The weather was not suitable for sugaring until March 24 and the season ended by April 15 when the temperature reached 79 degrees. They made 584 taps.
1942: 565 taps. Syrup was now $2.50 a gallon for Grade A.
1943: By April 1, there was still no good sap weather; it did run well a few days later, though, and a gallon of syrup brought $2.90.
1944: 750 taps in late March-there were more orders for syrup because of sugar rationing due to WWII.
1946: Sugared in March. Received $3.39 per gallon for Fancy syrup.
1947: 550 buckets out. Good sugar season.
1948: Sugaring season was short as the weather was too warm by April 2. They did get $5 a gallon for their best syrup.
1949: Ansel (Alfred’s son, Homer’s grandson) tapped only 20 buckets in March and finished it off on the old wood range, which they had moved to the cellar. They boiled up five and a half gallons for themselves; sugaring was not practical with no other to help with it.
Dan Churchill, who was a child during the 1940’s, recalled how shocked people were that a gallon of maple syrup sold for $5. Today’s price per gallon for Vermont syrup is close to $60.
Local sugaring is just getting underway. Keith Varga (226-7135), who is on Chubb Hill, started on March 21, while the Tyrrells (226-7409) are hoping to start this coming weekend.
Sugar on Snow Supper: All over Vermont, with the taping of maple trees, March is the month of the annual Sugar-on-Snow Supper held at various churches, grange halls, schools and community centers. The meal generally includes a menu of ham, potatoes, baked beans, various side dishes and of course, what everyone comes for, hot maple syrup poured over shaved ice and served with a homemade doughnut and pickle. Why the pickle? No one knows for sure, but it probably helps cut the sweetness of the maple candy.
The Cavendish Baptist Church has held an annual Sugar-on-Snow Supper for as long as people can remember. According to Sandra Stearns, “I know is has been a tradition since I was old enough to wait on tables, at about age 13 or 14, about 1952. Before that Will Atkinson used to bring down some of his ponies and give pony rides, [with the] fees donated to the church. I spent a number of years helping him lead that "riders" around the block - from the church around the parsonage and back.” Mildred Fitzgibbons, who is 90, recalls May Atkinson walking from her home on Atkinson Road to the Cavendish Baptist Church and spending the day cooking for suppers. Her husband Will sugared as did many other people in town.
This coming Saturday, March 29, from 5:30-7 pm, will be the Annual Sugar-on-Snow Supper at the Cavendish Baptist Church. There aren’t too many traditions that date back at least 75 years or more, but this is one of them. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 and free for those younger. FMI:226-7724