Maple sugaring: New England's cherished spring tradition

An early spring hampered this year's maple syrup production. But at the Davenport Maple Farm in Shelburne, Mass., the taps ran just as they always have done for the past century.

Joanne Ciccarello / Staff
Overview of the boiling room of the sugarhouse at Davenport Maple Farm in Shelburne, Mass. March 10, 2012. Typically it takes approximately 40+ gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
Joanne Ciccarello / Staff
Norman Davenport taps a sugar maple tree for sap on his property at the Davenport Maple Farm. Davenport Maple Farm produces between 200 and 800 gallons of syrup per season from 3,800 taps.

The pancakes taste better if you first visit the boiler room of the Davenport Maple Farm in Shelburne, Mass.  

Sugaring is as much a way of life for the Davenport's as it is a means of income. The farm will have been in the family 100 years as of 2013. The sugarhouse is not a replica of a long forgotten New England tradition. The old equipment, cans, and tubes are the real thing, even if they are family relics.

The boiling room is the place where neighbors, family, friends and tourists visit to see the clear, white maple tree sap being boiled into thick, golden maple syrup. Locals come by to check on the syrup making, comparing notes with Norm Davenport, who has a dead pan New England sense of humor. Tourists check out the scenery, settle in on a bench as the steam rises from the evaporator, taking it in while Lisa Davenport willingly explains how to make syrup again and again. 

Other visitors bring cameras to photograph the mounted deer head on the two-story wall. Children count the elves that are hanging in various places from the ceiling – a game Maegan Senser devised to keep children amused while their parents talk syrup.

This year's warm weather and early spring hampered production, cutting the Davenports final tally (419 gallons) to half of last year's banner year (880 gallons). Though the season is brief, it is labor intensive, requiring careful maintenance of the tap lines and long hours boiling sap. That’s the thing about sugaring – no technology will alter the process of trees making sap. Nature will take her time or speed up at will.

Just have the pancakes ready.

To see a slideshow of the Davenport Maple Farm click here.

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