Our Vermont Maple Syrup History
Proud To Be Vermont Sugarmakers
We sure are proud to be sugar makers in the state of Vermont. Vermont is the largest producer of pure maple syrup in the USA and was the first state to establish a maple law. We feel we are stewards for those that come after us. Our property is part of the Vermont Land Trust to insure it continues its agricultural use forever.
This syrup is from Orchard Hill Farm, the land of Russell and Roger Crane, in South Woodstock, Vermont. Here, six generations have sugared (made maple syrup) since it was first homesteaded in the mid 1840’s by Roger’s great-great grandfather, Lorenzo Townsend. At our beginning, in the fall of the year; Lorenzo, his wife Harriet and their children Hosea and Mary would gather together all the supplies needed for sugaring: buckets, spouts, cooking pans. They then packed them up and headed out to the sugar bush (the term Vermonters use for their maple tree woods). There, everything was unloaded and covered near the open stone arch (the area where the roaring fire will be built in the spring.) This annual autumn chore was complete when many cords of wood had been gathered and stacked.
In late February or early March when the long Vermont winter was waning, the Townsends returned to their sugarbush. The snow could still be hip deep or more on a grown man, so the work to be done was accomplished on snowshoes. After digging the supplies out of the snow, Lorenzo and Hosea would go tree to tree with hand augers, laboriously drilling and then inserting the wooden taps from which the sap would soon exit.
As the days lengthened and the sun warmed the Vermont hillsides, the warmer days followed by freezing nights caused the sap to begin flowing up from the tree roots. Wooden buckets hanging from the taps collected this clear, slightly sweet liquid. Using yokes and usually still requiring snowshoes, Lorenzo and Hosea would travel tree to tree, carrying the brimming buckets back to the gathering barrels.
While the men folk gathered sap in the sugarbush, Harriet cooked down the previous day’s sap yield. Young Mary’s duty was to tend the roaring wood fire required to keep the sap at a rolling boil. Harriet had to keep a watchful eye on the pans, gauging the syrup’s readiness only by an experienced eye. By mid-afternoon, the gathering was completed for the day. As the children banked the arch, Hosea and Mary strained the day’s yield through many layers of woolen cloth into the hogshead (very large barrel) they used to store their maple syrup.
Warner Expands Sugaring Operations
When Hosea’s son Warner took over the farm in the second decade of the 20th century, he expanded Orchard Hill Farm. Acquiring many more acres of woodland, the maple sugaring operation expanded, and a formal sugar house was built. This new sugar house had a much larger and permanently installed cast iron arch, a divided boiling pan and an attached woodshed, all much more modern, productive and convenient than the original open arch had been. At this point, straining the newly boiled syrup was done by pouring the syrup into a vat with many suspended heavy felt cones which removed the sugar sand, or niter from the syrup. This niter is the solidified minerals contained in the sap. During World War II, New England sugar makers found a secondary market for this usually discarded byproduct, as the U.S. Government purchased it for use in making gunpowder.
Modern Sugaring Technology
Orchard Hill Maple continued production in this wood fired sugarhouse until the early 1970’s when Warner’s nephew Russell took the family’s sugaring operation in a new direction. Building a larger, modern sugar house, Russell installed an oil fired arch which offered greater consistent heat to the arch, thereby ensuring greater syrup yields in less time and with less intense labor. Throughout the coming years, the peripheral orchard taps were converted to pipeline, making the actual gathering of the sap on some of Orchard Hill Farm’s steep hillsides both safer and easier. Russell further improved on the sugarhouse by adding a reverse osmosis (RO) system to the arch.
At the same time his son Roger started learning to boil and has continued to be in charge of the boiling process for more than 30 years. His sons Josh, Jeremy and Jake are all very involved in the tapping and gathering. Frequently, Josh’s oldest daughter Morgan lends a hand.
We are proud of our heritage and legacy in our family farm and prouder yet to provide our superb Vermont maple products to you.