Maple Season in New England
He took their advice along with their good-natured, sometimes skeptical, ribbing. He liked the camaraderie and the teamwork and the long shared hours when a boil was on. He paid a couple of young guys, “Bone” Thurston and “Bumpa” Carolan, to help him get his stove wood in and lay out his sap lines. They helped with the boiling for free, talked hunting and local gossip, and their mom cooked for the crew, besides.
Tig kept detailed notes and data on his computer, adding to the longer-term, handwritten records he’d inherited from Chas Baker, and shared everything he learned: stuff he was reading, results from his own experiments, marketing ideas. He shared in person and on his Web site, FreshMapleSyrup.com. (His blog is filled with history, research, and humor. In one post, he replied to a questioner: “The correct terminology for filter press, by the way, is ‘damned filter press,’ but ‘filter press’ will do as an abbreviation.”)
Tig’s 2009 total would come in at 520 gallons–a tiny fraction of Vermont’s 920,000 gallons, the state’s biggest crop in 60 years–but that was double what he’d made the previous year. He was planning to hit a thousand gallons in 2010. Part of that increase would come with additional taps; he purchased the Strafford land in December and doubled the number there. Part of it, Tig expected, would also come with the increased yields promised by the revolutionary new “check-valve” spouts unveiled over the summer at the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center. “I think their 50- to 90-percent increases might be overstated,” he says, back in the truck, glancing out at maple trees that have been part of a working landscape here for generations. And then he adds, in what could stand in for a metaphor of Tig’s part-past/part-future approach to the craft, “Their testing was done on a model, almost unnatural, forest. I’ll put a couple thousand of the new taps out, but segregate the results, compare them to history, see how other people do around here, and find out how the taps work in the real world.”
This year’s Vermont Maple Open House Weekend is set for March 26-28 at locations all across the state (vermontmaple.org). The annual Vermont Maple Festival is scheduled for April 30 through May 2 in St. Albans (vtmaplefestival.org).