Sugaring season

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(Host) Steam is rising from commentator Edith Hunter’s sugarhouse on the Center Road and so far she says it looks like a good year.

(Hunter) The 2004 maple sugaring season is off and running. Graham put in the 42 taps on February 27. (The number is in memory of Armstrong’s Princeton Class of 1942. I am just glad he didn’t graduate in ’99.) By March 2 I was boiling. We have three large plastic garbage pails and when those are full I can start boiling. They were full by Town Meeting.

When Graham drilled the first tap, the sap leaped out as if glad to be free of the trees. This year we decided to let some of the big old maples around the house rest, and Graham tapped the trees around the sugarhouse and a row of young maple up along the stonewall. The next generation of Hunter sugarers can run tubing along the wall to the maples in the woods, but for now we’re sticking close to home, with buckets.

All summer and fall Charlie has been putting dry wood in the sugarhouse. The Christmas trees and wreaths always burn nicely, and crooked sections of the locusts that were taken down have been added to the mix.

The sugarhouse has not been unoccupied since we finished operations last April. There are empty butternut shells on the visitors bench, probably contributed by the red squirrels. When Graham and I turned over the pan, we dumped out an enormous pile of mouse nesting materials – chewed leaves and papers. No one was at home and we put it right into the firebox for the first kindling.

Graham checked the chimney stack to make sure it was in good repair, and then levelled the pan. The old half of an oil drum that serves as the fire box is showing its age (about 35 years), but lined with firebrick, it will make it through this season.

There are three pairs of heavy gloves used to open the iron latch on the firebox when loading in the wood. From the back, the gloves look pretty good, but all suffer from the same disability on the front- burned through thumbs and fingers.

The can of powdered cocoa and the box of stone-ground crackers stand ready on the windowsill. Add a little hot maple sap to the cocoa, toast the crackers on the front of the firebox, and there is food fit for a king.

I like to think back over the food for the mind that I have enjoyed over the years in the sugarhouse. One year it was Studs Terkel, another year the many-volumed life of Abraham Lincoln by Carl Sandburg; one year Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop, and another year a history of civilization. My reading this year is Conrad.

What kind of a season will it be? A good one so far, and as I drive around Weathersfield, I see that all the regulars are tapped out, and the steam is billowing out of the sugarhouses. May it be a sweet and productive year.

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center, Vermont.

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