The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
weekly news release.
The most recent article is shown below.
You may view previous news releases here...
2-5-06 GETTING BACK TO BASICS
One thing apparent at Thompson-Ames Historical Society in Gilford is our admiration for people’s ingenuity, especially as evinced on the farm.
What immediately comes to mind are the many vintage tools created with specific goals in mind – tools for lumbering, building, farming, churning butter, cooking,… Our museum buildings abound with samples of these vintage tools.
At the base of ingenuity is people’s ability to observe, think and apply. --
That is what I wish to focus on today.
This past week I heard on New Hampshire Public Radio a news item indicating that one effect of this winter’s prolonged warm temperatures has been that sap in the maple trees had already begun to flow and that in one Vermont sugar bush 200 gallons of sap had already been collected!
Into my mind flashed an image of one of T-AHS’s theme displays in the Hallway of Historic Signs. The display includes the High Maples Farm sign and a maple tree with its sap bucket.
I picked up the telephone and called Ernie Bolduc to inquire about the status of sap locally and especially at the Bolduc Farm here in Gilford on Morrill Street. – Ernie had expressed a willingness to host a Saturday morning Maple Sugaring activity in conjunction with Thompson-Ames Historical Society this year and perhaps this needed to be scheduled sooner rather than later.
Yes, the weather has impacted the maples here, too, I learned! In fact Ernie stated, “We bored a hole for one spigot the other day and the tree yielded 2 ½ inches of sap in the bucket in 1 ½ hours and during the night the bucket over flowed, so we are tapping the trees now and collecting the sap until we have enough to fire up the evaporator and start boiling.”
With news like that, it undoubtedly was time to grab a camera and make haste to the Bolduc Farm sugaring shack.
When I arrived, Ernie was in the sugaring shack where he had already cleaned and polished the stainless steel evaporating tank until it glistened. He flipped through wall charts and pointed to numbers that had been noted over time to record tapping dates, gallons of sap gathered, etc., as he stated, “We have observed over the years that the flow of sap in the maples in our area has been tied in time directly to the season of Lent, a date determined by Mother Nature each year.”
“But some years Easter, Ash Wednesday and Lent come late and other years, early,” I commented in puzzlement.
“No matter, the flow of sap in this area has started about Ash Wednesday over the years,” Ernie assured me, “but the unusually long stretch of warm weather this winter is causing the sap to begin flowing a month before Lent. We’re left wondering about the future.”
As we stepped outdoors we could hear off in the distance the sound of a motor that indicated more maples in the sugar bush were being tapped to take advantage of the flow of sap.
Ernie dipped a shiny stainless steel cup into the bucket hanging on a near-by maple as he said, “This is the tree that we did the test run on the other day.”
He handed me the cup containing what looked like sparkling clear water. I hesitantly took a sip, then drank the rest without a pause, before exclaiming, “It’s like sugar water!” Ernie smiled as I added, “I thought it would be a light golden hue.”
“Sap is clear if it is kept clean,” he remarked.
I shared the experience of my family’s tapping a maple tree at our Hudson River Valley home, in New York State, when I was a youngster, and then boiling it in the kitchen to make syrup. As a side effect, the excessive humidity, released during the boiling-down process, caused the wall-paper paste to loosen and the paper to hang in strips from the walls. This recollection caused Ernie and me to share a chuckle.
As we walked along we stopped to admire a tree here and there and finally came to a stop at the foot of an historic old maple that Ernie says was yielding sap for syrup before the time George Washington became President. No longer tapped, the majestic tree bears the historic marks of healed-over sap holes.
We talked awhile longer about the enduring power of Mother Nature. Ernie recalled the times that he visited the Allen-Rogers timberland in New York’s Adirondack Mountains on the other side of the mountain from the Olympics site near Lake Placid. He noted that when a hardwood stand was cut and the area was left to Mother Nature, softwood trees would grow as replacement. On the other hand, if a softwood stand was cut and the area was left to Mother Nature, a hardwood stand would grow up. Meaningful observations such as these are found scattered throughout primary sources when people do historic research.
This reminded me of a passage on page 45 in The Gunstock Parish: A History of Gilford, New Hampshire in which reference is made to Jeremy Belknap’s 1792 description of land appraisal based upon observing natural growth of trees. The passage states, “Spruce and hemlock…denote a thin, cold soil,… White pine land is light and dry, but has a deeper soil, and is of course better. Beech and maple land is generally esteemed the most easy and advantageous for cultivation…; that soil which is deepest, and of the darkest color, is esteemed the best.” Observations such as these helped new comers decide where to settle to farm.
These self-reliant people did not have scientific research to guide their decision- making, but, on the other hand, scientific research gives us insight into why these observations were well-founded.
Keen observation even influenced decisions made in respect to cooking practices. For example, it was recognized that the use of buttermilk or soured milk made for a lighter, well-raised bread which was also influenced by temperature and how long a sitting time was allowed. Today scientific research gives us insight into the effects of acidity, temperature, holding time, etc.
As we preserve and celebrate Gilford’s cultural heritage, let us give due credit to the essential ability of people to observe, think and apply as they met the challenges of every-day life when self-sufficiency was a key factor.
* * *
As soon as Ernie Bolduc gives us the nod, Thompson-Ames Historical Society will announce the Saturday morning date when the main event will be a visit to vintage Bolduc Farm to experience the delight of maple sugaring time. So, do keep a watch out for an announcement on the Society’s website www.gilfordhistoricalhistory.org and in the newspaper.
* * *
If you would like to figure when sap in our area would probably start to flow in a given year, this is the formula.
Find March 21st on the calendar; this is the time of the Vernal equinox., the beginning of spring. Find the date when the moon will next be full. Find the next Sunday on the calendar; that is Easter Sunday. -- Now to find out when sap probably will begin to flow, count backwards on the calendar for 40 days but don’t count any Sundays. The date that you come up with is called Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the day when the temperatures are probably warm enough to cause sap to flow. -- Test it out each year to see how Mother Nature is doing.