As we head towards our 30th annual Maple Syrup Festival this weekend, we take a look back at the very first sugarmaker at the Nature Center – Director Rich Patterson’s father-in-law, Leslie Fellows. The Fellows family lived in New Boston, New Hampshire – about 30 miles west of Manchester. Daughters Marion (Rich’s wife) and Jacqueline have many fond childhood memories to share with us. Makes it sound like a pretty wonderful way to grow up!
New Boston, 1944 to 1952
Our parents bought this beautiful farmhouse perched atop Meeting House Road in New Boston, New Hampshire, in 1944 for a mere $1,500 which then was a small fortune. This would be our home for my childhood formative years. I remember it being in need of lots of tender loving care. Our father was a man of multiple tinkering abilities…mechanic, farmer, carpenter, hunter and collector of maple sap.
He poked the metal taps into holes that he had drilled with a hand drill. Can you imagine that? None of this stuff with electric batteries or wires to a socket. He had to be some strong to keep that drill winding around and around with the curly cues of bark and inner membranes filtering to the ground. Then there it was sap seeping from the maple wood. He popped in the tap and soon the sap was plinking into the metal pail.
Today you see miles of plastic tubing stretching through the woods from tree to tree ferrying the sap to huge containers. My father in the day had to empty the pails one at a time from the trees into a larger pail. Then he replaced the pail for it to refill.
He carried this treasure to a huge old cast iron kitchen stove that he placed out back in a sheltered area by the porch. Piles of chopped wood waited their turn in the blazing fire. The kettle puffed steam as the heat slowly reduced the sap to a golden syrup. Dad always went for the pure golden syrup first. As the season wore on the sap became a darker color which wasn’t the creme of the crop as far as he was concerned. You had to hold that canning jar up to the sun to see the purity gleaming with golden shafts of yummy syrup.
This activity continued from February into March until finally the warm weather replaced the cold nights and warm days when the sap flowed the very best. Mom was the inside crew creating delicious breakfasts with pancakes and coffee. A fabulous treat was the winter candy created from steaming maple syrup. Dad would collect new fallen snow and packed it into a pan. Then he poured streams of hot syrup onto the snow. Just as fast as it hit the snow, it froze in place. Voila! There was another winter treat! It was so good. I can remember it sticking to my teeth and I would have to suck all the goodness and let it trickle down my throat.
This is one of my favorite memories as a youngster growing up in New Boston. Next to sledding the length of Back Meeting House Road down to Mr. Thompson’s garage, maple syruping is the best!