Thursday, May 28, 2015

Memoirs Chapter 13/Sugaring

Sugaring in Cavendish 2015. Photograph by Svetlana Phillips
Following Chapter 13 is information about “sugaring” in Cavendish.  To read the prelude and other chapters of Tiemann’s Memoirs go to Coming to Vermont (Cavendish): Memoirs of Philip Tiemann.

I bought a pair of bear-paw snowshoes with some Christmas money. This type is stubby and broad, without a tail, and is adapted for getting around in brushy or rough country. $o I was able to go into the woods despite the deep snow, and began to do a little chopping. This was new type of work and I was not adept at it, but in time I had plenty of practice.

Below the house, between the road and the large mowing, is an area thru which the back brook flows, and has always (I imagine) been lowed to remain wooded as it is no good for anything else. The growth is mixed. Maple and pine had been logged, but a fine new scattering of rock maple had started up, and I  had a vision of  a sugar bush in this convenient spot. It needed a lot of clearing and thinning. There were yellow birch, elm, beech, ash, and the usual weed trees such as wild cherry and soft maple, And opposite it, the growth between the road,:. and Tracer Brook was similar. I didn't look any further for a "wood lot," To be in,business,  all I had to do was put my wedges in my pocket, shoulder ax sledge, and snow-shoes, walk about a hundred yards down the road, kick into the snowshoe harness, and step in among the trees. "And get two jobs done in one operation," I thought.

It turned out to have been good judgment, and this is where I got our fuel during most of the years we burned wood, which was until 1963. Several times I chopped, or had chopping done, over by the road which is our eastern boundary, partly to eke out the supply but also to make use of some old "gone by" trees.

But I couldn't spend all my time getting up wood. "Where are you going to put those new chickens?" Isabel wanted to know. So I started work on the new chicken houses, which already existed in skeleton form. When we came, there was a good stone foundation and part of a frame for a lean-to shed against the south side of the big. barn, into which a doorway had been out. Altho apparently intended for cows,. it seemed it would serve us much better for chickens, so I began making modifi­cations. As it was too large for our immediate needs I decided to have three compartments; we'd use one immediately and have the remaining space in reserve. It all needed to be roofed and floored and sheathed and was another of those jobs, which turned out much bigger than anticipated. It had to be part-time work, which always seems to drag; also I was "learning while doing." Fortunately there was on hand a supply of rough-sawed boards; of uneven quality, it still saved me some ex­pense for sheathing.

The first of March was like spring. Such days come to deceive, one into thinking winter is over. It induced me to make up an order for veget­able seeds, which was fun, altho it still was months to out-door plant­ing time and longer yet to getting a crop. This realization took some of the joy out of life, as we had only a few jars of tomatoes and pickles left in the cellar and some dried beans in the attics. Having to spend more for food really hurt.

However, keeping busy is a good antidote for worry. There remained plenty to be done in the house. Isabel just then was scraping and cleaning some of the old spruce panels preparatory to their being put in place above the kitchen mantels This required that I first remove plaster-and lath and fill up the stove-pipe hole. But before I could do that there had to be a hole made thru the ceiling and the floor above so the pipe could go up, and into the chimney in the bed-room: a rough and "temporary” job. At-a much later date, in Montpelier, I came across and purchased an unusual circular register made for just this situation, with a plate in the canter to remove for the pipe to pass thru. Meantime a tin box with a hole in the middle (as fire protection)/had to serve, but even with this we noticed the room was warmer. - Of course the kitchen again was in a fine mess, but when the panels were in place and the small strip of Sheetrock ceiling fitted in against them it made a nice looking job.

When we first came to Windy Hill we used to be amused by the stories of the varied uses to which a kitchen might be put. But no longer. That March a couple of sick hens were only the first in a procession over the years of live stock needing special attention and warmth... Eggs had increased to about sixteen a day, almost 100%, one of them weighing “a quarter of a pound. But still no calf.

By mid-month the winter really started to break. Altho replenished quite regularly the snow was settling, and as the frost ca,me out of the roads they degenerated to that horrible condition of muck and ruts which annually brought traffic practically to a standstill. In short, it was "mud season." The children thought this was fine as they began a monthly hol­iday, meant to coincide with the bad going.

As many days were pleasant I continued the tree-pruning, doing six tipples and the big old crab. This was interrupted when Dan put his foot through the floor of his stall, and I found it so rotten it required complete re­placement. I luckily was able to get at the mill (the same piece that ground my meal in the fall) some thick bridge planks of elm, the best of flooring for a stable. Dan was scarcely earning his keep, with only an occasional job now that the wood was all hauled. Nor was it good for him to stand so much of the time in the barn. We used him for occasional trips to the village,  as when Wy and I drove him to the freight office to pick up some rolls of roofing for the chicken-house.

A boy calf at last arrived,- on March 17 so of course he was "Pat." It was quite an event for the children, who had been most interested in progress. Fortunately there were no complications other than "caked bag" which is not unusual. The cowls udder became hard and feverish, partly, in this case, because the calf was limited in his energetic efforts (bunting and kneading and working at the teats) to get food. We wanted to wean him promptly. Hot compresses and rubbing in a salve, together with regular milling, soon worked a cure.

While this was going on we were setting a few sap buckets, borrowed ­with spouts - from our good neighbor. "Don't bore the holes too deep" he cautioned me. "The sap layer of wood is just inside the bark. Put them on the sunny side, not much higher than the snow level." "I don't suppose we will need very much," I remarked. He snickered. Well it takes about a barrel of sap to make a gallon of syrup." I was skeptical, but he wasn't kidding. We emptied n dozen buckets, more or less full, twice a day for a couple of days and soon had pans of sap steam­ing on every stove in the house before it snowed and spoiled the run. And we finished off enough syrup for breakfast one morning.

The bad weather also held up my plan to paint the eves in the rear of the house before moving the scaffold to the front. (The neatly-laid stack looked beautiful.) Instead, I prepared some seed "flats" (shal­low boxes of any convenient size) with earth and planted yellow tomatoes, onions, cabbages, and cauliflowers,• a bit late as it proved; these things start slowly and should be in by Lincoln's Birthday. They require resetting to give them greater strength and plenty of room, before going out doors about mid*May for most things, but not before Decoration Day for tomatoes which are susceptible to late frost. While I was inside Isabel kept me company working on her first hooked rug: she became very skillful at this, and also braiding. - But it seemed the cold and snow would never end.

The chickens had suffered during the cold, and from their heavy produc­tion; another was sick and one died. But our new cow "Maria" proved to be a good producer, giving better than ten quarts a day. Pat was growing fine: before the end of two weeks I estimated his weight between 60 and 70 pounds, and already he was more than Wyeth could handle. He also was almost weaned. The udder congestion had cleared up so we could use the milk, and with such abundance we set it in pens over night when the cream could be skimmed off and soon Isabel had enough to make our first butter,- a great occasion. Then I got the crank separator to function and this turned out to be more efficient. Pat had to be sat­isfied with skim milk, but he was too greedy to notice the difference.

At last came a few days of good weather so I could do the painting job. We then moved the staging to the front of the house.

Sugaring in Cavendish: The short sugar season in 1934 was not unusual, as “sugaring” can very from year to year in its duration along with the quantity and quality of the syrup produced. The same year that the Tiemanns made their first batch, Homer Kingsbury, who lived several miles away on Chubb Hill, sold 14 gallons to the First National Store in Ludlow at $1.23 per gallon. Read Sugaring in Cavendish

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