One of my fondest memories as a child was sugaring season at the Chamberlin family farm. Typically, the season began as early as the last week of February. On our hill, the second week in March was more realistic. My uncle always seemed to know exactly when he needed to start tapping the trees each year. To me, it appeared as if he had some kind of mystical sixth sense. When I was little, it was all about fresh maple syrup, still hot and drizzled over snow - a treat that would surely “ruin” my dinner, but it only happened once a year like a second Christmas, so no one could keep me away from this sweet treat. When I was old enough, I took part in the gathering of sap from the buckets that were placed on our neighbor's maple trees. They, of course, gave us permission to do so in exchange for a gallon of fresh syrup at the end of the season.
Gathering sap wasn’t always my favorite part of the process, especially if we still had deep snow banks to climb over. To this day, one of my most treasured memories is sitting on the wood pile in the sugar house on my Dad's jacket listening to the tales and stories surrounded by the sweet smelling steam of the sap turning to syrup and the warmth of the wood-fired arch. Like clockwork, what followed was being awakened by my Dad to go home after the last of the day's syrup had been drawn off, and the arch began cooling off for the night. For us, sugaring was always a family affair with my uncles, my Dad, sometimes an aunt and a cousin or two. For my sister and I, it was the best kind of classroom - a true hands-on learning experience.
We learned history of both family and community, and there was the science of sugaring itself. How does the temperature at night and during the day affect the flow of sap from trees? The best flow occurs when it gets very cold at night followed by a really warm daytime temperature. We were taught that the earlier the season began, it also affected the grade of syrup for the year. If sugaring started at the end of February, the resulting grade of syrup would start out light and sugary – what we formerly called Grade A Fancy. Today’s grading system calls it “Delicate”. As the season progressed, all hopes were that the syrup would become darker. We also learned that another key factor was the length of time that the temperature continued to get cold at night. The longer the temperature stayed cold, the more time we'd have to get into the darker grades of syrup like the infamous Grade B, as it used to be known, and now labeled as Robust. If the season started and temperatures quickly rose, the resulting syrup was generally Grade A Medium (Rich) to Grade B (Robust).
Sugaring Season at the farm also marked the beginning of another special occurrence in farming: new life. Our cows would begin having their calves, and goats bore their kids. Most of my childhood was spent at the barn surrounded by those animals, as well as the numerous barn cats and chickens. I loved all of them including the very temperamental barn cats, but my favorites by far were the chickens. Without fail and much to our dismay, as soon as the weather got warmer one or two, sometimes, even three of our laying hens would decide that it was time to start a family. Most of the time, the hens stashed their eggs in some little space we wouldn't find, until it was too late and they had hatched. Since it was my job to collect the eggs, I was usually the one to discover the new additions. The chicks now became my responsibility. I made sure they had access to their own food and water and were safe from the other hens. Although I wasn't always successful, it was a life lesson I learned.
Today, that same passion burns ever brighter with my own flock that I have built with a little help from my family. They, too, reside at the Chamberlin family farm on Church Hill. As they say, everything comes full circle.
I joined the Gillingham’s family in 2015. At my favorite general store, I focus on exemplary customer service, know my way around maple syrup, and am available to assist with any pet-related questions. When not at the store, I enjoy time with my husband, Adam, and our flock of chickens. Our Schnauzer-Pomeranian mix, Remmi - keeps us both on our toes and enjoying the outdoors – every season Vermont has to offer. I enjoy reading, especially historical fiction and books on raising chickens. My keen intuitiveness is attributed to my belief in all things magical and the spirit world. My friends and family know that they can always count on me.
I look forward to seeing you at the store!
Tanya C. Parker
F.H. Gillingham & Sons Team Member