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March 28th, 2011

The Sap Is Rising

It’s maple sugaring season across the northern tier of North America. Ever since I was a little girl and read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story of a Wisconsin sugaring-off party in The Little House in the Big Woods, I’ve always wanted to see real maple syrup being made. Laura’s description made it seem like so much fun, and there was a big party afterward. I could picture Ma and Pa and Laura pouring the syrup onto fresh snow to make maple candy. Yum! My favorite local candy store still sells homemade pure maple candy shaped like maple leaves and acorns, and I always think of Laura when I see it.

Tapping maple trees doesn’t do them any significant harm, and harvesting the sap is a great way for farmers to earn extra income without chopping down their woodlots. The sugaring-off process is not complicated, but it does take a lot of patience, as 40 to 50 gallons of sap needs to be boiled (and boiled, and boiled) until it’s cooked down to a single gallon of pure syrup. This does make it an energy-intensive enterprise. I’m sure someone will soon invent a solar-powered sugar boiler, if they haven’t already.

I love to collect old photos of people engaged in unusual occupations, and I have two examples of “sugar shacks” in full steam. The first is a postcard from about 1910, location unidentified (drat!):

Sugar shack circa 1910

Sugar shack circa 1910

The second one is a rotogravure postcard postmarked in Clifford, Susquehanna County, in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region:

Sugar camp on Greene's Valley Farm, Clifford, Pennsylvania

Sugar camp on Greene's Valley Farm, Clifford, Pennsylvania

I would love to know where Greene’s Valley Farm was, and if it still exists. A former employee of the farm mailed the card in 1917 with this description: “Sun. Am here to-day. This is a place where I used to work where they make maple syrup. Was here for supper to-night. At church & Sun. school to-day. B.G.W.”

Greetings from Clifford, Pennsylvania, 1917

Greetings from Clifford, Pennsylvania, 1917

Postcards: the next-best thing to time travel!

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