The inspiration for the Sugaring Season - Winter 2021 Story Collection is drawn from the landscape that provides a dramatic backdrop for the Vermont sugaring season, which occurs at the threshold between winter and spring. The muted colors of the thawing landscape mark the conclusion of winter, when freezing nights and warming days encourage the sap to rise.
Maple sugaring has a long history in Vermont and the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) is the official state tree. Early British and French settlers observed how to tap sugar maples by watching the Native American tribes, who used bark vessels to collect batches of sap. The high cost of imported sugar made locally-made maple syrup an important culinary ingredient and it was common for families to tap and tend their nearby sugar bush (the term for a stand of sugar maple trees).
The Vermont forests used to be checkered with sugar houses, outbuildings where maple sap was brought by horse-drawn sleds to be boiled down into maple syrup in early spring. Today, these structures are rapidly disappearing and organizations like The Sugarhouse Project are trying to document as many of these historic buildings as they can before they are gone.
Sap collection is carried out in late winter/early spring, typically in February and March, when the trees begin to thaw and the sap starts to run. Gathering sap and tending to the evaporators 24/7 during the peak season requires demanding physical labor. Historically, family members, neighbors and paid laborers assisted with the process - a practice that still continues. The different grades of syrup produced are a result of both the timing of the sap harvest and how it is processed.
Collection and processing practices evolved over time with the introduction of new technology and food safety requirements, such as chambered evaporators and polyethylene tubing (the iconic blue tap lines you may see snaking through the forest year-round), which allows sugarmakers to collect and process sap more efficiently. New technology eliminated the need for older tools like galvanized metal sap buckets, which often had high traces of lead causing food safety concerns. New evaporator systems replaced the wood fire method and production moved from family/subsistence focus to larger scale industrial enterprises.
Early 1870s advertisement for the “Improved Sugar Evaporator” offered by The Vermont Farm Machine Co. of Bellows Falls, ca. 1870. Image source: https://maplesyruphistory.com/2019/01/30/evaporator-company-histories-vermont-farm-machine-company-williams-improved-evaporator/
Today, some sugarmakers continue the legacy of the older methods. You can learn more about our featured local sugarmakers, Tim and Loraine Hescock of Vermont Trade Winds Farm, by reading The Sugarmaker blog post here>>
The Sugaring Season - Winter 2021 Story Collection includes the following four colorways representing the landscape that provides a dramatic backdrop for the Vermont sugaring season, which occurs at the threshold between winter and spring. Each story collection includes four mini skeins (each approx. 25g) of worsted weight, 100% Superwash wool milled in the US. To order the collection, please visit here>> (available starting November 19th). The Sugaring Season Story Collection includes the following colors:
||Old Sap Bucket - This galvanized metal gray has a slight purple undertone and bright orange flecks of rust evoking a well-used sap bucket|
||Frosty Fields - Inspired by a thawing pasture at the quickening of spring; this yarn has a cream base with hints of moss green, tan, and subtle pewter gray.|
||Sugar Bush - The stark dark gray of sugar bush bark, with olive green and steel gray highlights.|
||Snow Drift - A pale ice blue representing snow banks in shadow with a wash of light periwinkle.|
Sources for more information:
- Vermont Trade Winds Farm: https://vermonttradewinds.com/
- Matthew Thomas’ incredible blog on maple syrup history: https://maplesyruphistory.com/2018/08/23/recommended-reads-excellent-sources-on-the-culture-and-history-of-maple-syrup
- The Maple Sugaring Process explained: https://vermontmaple.org/how-maple-syrup-is-made
- University of Vermont, Maple Research Collection: https://www.uvm.edu/cals/proctor-maple-research-center
- American Dialect Society article on maple syrup dialect, 1947: https://maplesyruphistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Publication-of-the-American-Dialect-Society-1947-vol-8-no-1-p3%E2%80%9310.pdf
Cover image courtesy of: Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress), 1940. Article images courtesy of: Gretchen Boyce, Christy Lombardo, Vermont Trade Winds Farm, and University of Vermont Special Collections.
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