The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 14, 2003


Maple sugar time in Carlisle

It's that time of year when the temperatures fluctuate around the freezing point, falling into the 20s overnight and rising into the 40s during the day. These are the best conditions for flow of maple sap. The warmth of the tree during the day causes the tree's internal pressure to reach a point where sap will run from any fresh break through the bark. John Burroughs in 1886 wrote in Signs and Seasons, "A sap-run is the sweet good-by of winter. It is the fruit of the equal marriage of the sun and frost." (My marriage was a bit like that · sun and frost.) On Sunday, March 2, 2003, the sap-run marriage was in trouble. The sun had gone · the frost was in a sorry state · and a ménage-a-trois was forming around the maple sap and that more-suited pair of lovers, rain and mud.

From newest car in town to newest evaporator

It's the time of year when the Hiltons of Lowell Street might be found hard at work in their sugarhouse. The sugarhouse is built on the concrete floor of what was once Frank Blaisdell's early 20th-century garage. In place of his Reo, one of the first cars in Carlisle, stands a special-purpose iron furnace topped with a gleaming new stainless steel evaporator, two feet wide by four feet long.

A family activity

SAP HAPPENING. Katy Scholten stokes the fire as her father Dan adds more kindling to their outdoor syrup-making project. Neighbor Dora Khayami keeps watch on the process. (Photo by Ellen Huber)
In 1974, the Hiltons, along with their neighbors, the Edsons and the Jenkinses, started the Tap and Sap Society and subsequently built the sugarhouse. The other families have moved away but come back each year to help. On Sunday, three generations of Hiltons were working on the "burn." It's difficult to plan a day for the burn since sap flow is controlled by the weather and once collected the sap is best made into syrup right away. You have to "go with the flow." The sap is consolidated in a large vat mounted high for gravity-assisted feed to the evaporator. About 120 to 150 gallons of sap is needed for the burn to be worthwhile for this 2 ft. by 4 ft. evaporator. The burn will typically last 10 or more hours and involves keeping a constant eye on the fire, fetching and/or splitting firewood, stoking the fire, monitoring the levels of sap in the multi-chambered evaporator, testing the concentration of the syrup, readying containers and filters for the pour-off, pouring off the hot syrup, and fetching buckets of water for the cool-down.

The benefits

The obvious benefit of the process is the resulting maple syrup. In addition there is the conviviality of the sugarhouse scene; one's complexion is improved by the steam from the evaporation of 100 gallons of moisture (isn't it?); winter ailments are banished by the steam and the warmth; and you go away wrapped in a light, faint, earthy scent of maple that gives you a laid-back, low-level high for the rest of the night (the kind of high for those afraid of heights). How sweet it is!

Can I visit a sugarhouse? Yes, there are more than 100 sugarhouses open to the public in Massachusetts. There is a directory at

Is the Hilton syrup (Tap and Sap Society syrup) available for purchase? Yes, it's available once a year at Old Home Day.

Is sugaring difficult? What can go wrong? HUGE questions. Experience counts. Visit a sugarhouse to see what's involved. There are lots of good books on the topic. From my observations of the Hiltons at work and their tales of times remembered, I would say the process is not at all tolerant of loss of attention. Even singing can be hazardous. On one occasion, the Tap and Sap Society was having so much fun singing, it failed to notice the feed pipe to the evaporator had frozen. The syrup became sugar; the sugar became charcoal; the evaporator became scrap.

Does sugaring harm the maples? A good analogy for understanding the impact of tapping a tree is the Red Cross tapping your body for a pint of blood. The Red Cross would like you to be able to provide this service again, so it takes an amount that your body won't notice. It taps only healthy donors. It uses clean, sharp tools of an appropriate diameter such that the puncture wound fills in and heals rapidly. There are big healthy maple trees in New England that have been tapped for more than a hundred years.

Highland School Photos

I am hoping to find someone with photos, taken at least 50-60 years ago, of the white oak tree in front of the old Highland School on School St. Please call me (Kay Fairweather 1-978-371-1178) if you have such photos.

Baked Beans with Maple and Rum
4 c. dry navy beans
1 lb. salt pork or ham
1 c. maple syrup
1 c. maple sugar
3 qt. water
1 lg. onion
1 T. salt
1/2 c. butter
1 t. baking soda
1 t. dry mustard
4 apples, cored and unpeeled
1/2 c. dark rum
  1. Rinse beans, cover with cold water and soak overnight.
  2. Pour beans and water into large pot. Add baking soda and more water to cover beans. Bring to a boil uncovered and boil until some of the skins fall off when you blow on them.
  3. Line a bean pot with thin slices of the pork or ham, then pour in beans and water
  4. Roll onion in dry mustard completely and bury it in the middle of the beans. Pour maple syrup and salt over top. Bake at 325 degrees for 4 to 5 hours..
  5. At the start of the last hour, place whole apples on top as close together as possible. Cream maple sugar and butter together and spread over the apples. Pour rum over top just before serving.
    -Mass.Maple Producers Assn.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito