February has been a busy month around here! Sugaring season is starting earlier and earlier due to climate change, so we have to adjust our schedules to catch sap when it’s flowing. Matt stopped his restaurant renovation and came back to the farm. He’s been clearing lines that come down due to weather or animals. It’s also a great time to start cutting wood for next year’s sugaring. A friend is coming to help tap tomorrow and we’ll be boiling as soon as there’s enough sap! Stay tuned for our first batch of 2020 syrup!
Sugaring is deeply entrenched in northeastern culture. It’s a harbinger of spring, which we badly need after many months of gray, cold days. It’s part of our livelihood and a large part of Matt’s family history.
Matt and sister Amy are fifth generation sugarers on their Mom, Nancy’s side. Their great-great grandfather built a sugar house in upstate New York in 1901. While sugaring is still very labor intensive today, it was extremely so 100 years ago. Only buckets were used and sap was collected by horse drawn sled. The sap was boiled in a wood fired evaporator, just as we do today. Matt’s great grandfather inherited the operation and the family farm. At their peak, they had 2000 taps. Matt’s grandmother helped from a very young age. At age 12, she could hitch up the team of work horses by herself and gather sap. She often missed school during the spring to help. The family sold much of the syrup and maple sugar, especially during WW II when white sugar was rationed.
Matt’s father, Ron, didn’t have quite as long a history, but during high school, his dad and his brother sugared on their small farm in Craftsbury, Vermont. When Matt’s grandfather saw that the boys were determined, he helped them fix up an old sugar house on the property and they continued for several years. When Matt’s parents moved to Charlotte, there were only three maple trees on their ten acres! However, with that history, soon Matt and Amy were carrying buckets of sap after school. Nancy would boil it down on their kitchen stove and it flavored their pancakes on Sunday mornings.
Today Ron and Nancy help Amy and her husband Steve who sugar in Brandon, Vermont. Their draft horses, Doc and Tonka, are integral to the operation. They have about 100 taps using buckets and a gathering tank on a sled. Ron is the official “boiler” and they make about forty gallons of syrup annually. Nancy performs endless duties including gathering sap and keeping everyone well fed!
When Matt and I moved to Huntington in 2005, he was a full time carpenter on a crew that built large, custom houses. While the job was good in all respects, it didn’t satisfy Matt’s desire to work in the woods and make our land productive. Our sugaring journey started with 15 buckets, then 30. The first boil was in a lasagna pan on my grandfather’s wood stove. Each year the operation grew a little more with different means of evaporation until Matt decided it was time to become a sole proprietor, build a sugarhouse and name the business. In 2015, Couching Lion Maple Sugar Farm was born!
As we move into our fifth season with the sugarhouse and modern sugaring tools, we continue to make plans for the future and think about how to diversify our products. We’re feeling comfortable with the routine of sugaring and the impact it has on our lives February-April. Every spring holds so much excitement and promise. Soon all the sugarhouses in the area will be puffing out steam and despite the constant work during these months, we’ll all feel the joy and comfort that only a hundreds of years old tradition can impart.
Happy sugaring 2020!
February Brings the Camel’s Hump Challenge!
Whether you call it Camel’s Hump or The Couching Lion, Vermont’s third highest mountain is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream all year round. This month, 80 skiers circumnavigated the mountain and raised $50,000 for Alzheimer’s research!
Prizes for the first and last skier who completed the Camel’s Hump Challenge. The ski departs from our property, and raises money for Alzheimer’s research.
Skiers enjoyed a bit of the sugarbush as they began the ascent.
Skiers heading out for a 14 mile journey.
I love checking out my game cams to see who has been out and about. Our sugarbush is home to countless animals and we work hard to co-exist. We also love human visitors! We haven’t joined the maple open house, nor do we have a farm store, but we welcome an email or phone call if you’d like to come visit our sugarbush. Its a beautiful spot and always an adventure!
As sugarers begin to boil sap into maple syrup, kids clamor for sugar on snow! This sticky treat is the result of maple syrup boiled a bit longer and then cooled quickly on snow or ice. Click the picture below for full details!
While our small business has its share of challenges, support and love from friends and family is not one of them. Recipes using maple sugar and maple syrup abound from our wonderful supporters. Click the picture below for a maple shortbread recipe from the indomitable local baker, Joanna Beall.
Wishing you all a wonderful late winter and early spring. As always, thank you for your continued support in this little business.
XO Chaska and Matt