Festival celebrates maple syrup
STAFF WRITER | March 18,2013
Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo
Fred Bradley of Middletown Springs feeds the fire used to boil a pot of maple syrup during the annual Maple Festival on Sunday.
MIDDLETOWN SPRINGS — In a world where there are fewer and fewer activities that interest everyone, the 25th annual Maple Festival offered treats and activities that spanned the generations.
At one end of the spectrum was Fred Bradley, 70, of Middletown Springs, who used an open fire and an enormous cast-iron pot to demonstrate how syrup was made in the olden days before vacuum lines and reverse osmosis.
“Later, we’ll pour it out on the ground so it runs south, and hopefully the person walking through it doesn’t get stuck,” Bradley said slyly. He first boiled sap to make syrup 60 years ago in Woodstock.
“I had 10 trees and I boiled it in a copper pot and finished it on my grandmother’s stove,” Bradley said, recalling the final product as being an unusual shade of gray. “My grandmother said it was wonderful and she was lying, but it got me hooked.”
“I enjoy making a little syrup and giving it away,” he said, noting a preference for fancy grade. “If I did it for profit, it would take all the fun out of it and I probably would have gone bankrupt years ago.”
Bradley said the sap has not been flowing well in recent days and offered an old-time truism to remember how weather affects the sap yield.
“Wind from the north, sap flows forth. Wind from the south, sap’s a drought. Wind from the east, sap flows least. Wind from the west, sap flows best,” he said.
While Bradley was boiling sap, Philip Mahar, 9, of Middletown Springs, was minding a table 40 feet away and selling pints, quarts and half gallons of his finished product.
“We started a new maple sugar house this year and we’ve produced a lot more syrup than we have the last few years,” Philip said, flanked by his sister Annabelle Mahar, 7, and friend Logan Horner, 9. “We installed a reverse-osmosis system and we’ve had a few pretty good weekends.”
Inside the Middletown Springs Historical Society — which hosts the annual event as one of its major fundraisers — Philip and Annabelle’s parents, Ryan and Anne Marie Mahar, sold syrup and discussed the season so far.
“It was a great start to the season but then the cold weather has shut us down,” said Ryan Mahar, as musicians Gary Lindroff and Paul Morgan tore through a blazing version of the Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” with acoustic guitar and harmonica. “But it’s definitely better than last year, when we did our last boil March 16.”
While visitors downstairs enjoyed sugar on snow and an array of maple-infused confections, upstairs, guests listened to a lecture from Bill Clark on the history and evolution of the techniques and the business of sugar making.
“In the early days, they used to sell syrup in hand-hewn wooden bowls, and if you can find one of those in an antique shop, you’re in luck,” said Clark, past president of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association, as he sat behind a sweeping display of old taps and containers.
Sunday’s festivities were a precursor to the Vermont Maple Open House Weekend on Saturday and Sunday at sugar houses around the state. For more information, go online to vermontmaple.org.