News from Vermont #234 -- Sweet Dogs
Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks
Hello again Maple People,
It was truly a grand weekend at our sugarhouse. Steffen Parker and I manned our new Leader evaporator, son Tommy and brother Elliott provided the vital roles of getting us sap and clean barrels for all the syrup we made and Pete Walbridge boiled the hotdogs. Hotdogs, you ask?...what the devil do hotdogs have to do with maple syrup? The answer is "everything" in the Morse sugarhouse on Maple Open House Weekend.
Let's go back a few years to the days before plastic sap tubing when we had 3000 buckets hanging on trees. Yes, it was a lot more work but it was good healthy work and the nostalgia takes to my soul like white steam to a blue sky. Back then we had a sap gathering crew of four, mostly young folk with strong backs, visionary minds, and a one-season tenure. The one exception was a great man named Gerald Pease. Gerald had a small dairy farm over in Shady Rill and time to spare between barn chores. He came back thirty years in a row as chief of the gathering crew, stimulus for stories, and friend to all...I'm often approached by strangers with the common line: "Used to gather sap up at Morse Farm and I'll never forget Gerald Pease."
For some reason "chowing down" often provides fodder for folklore (cowboys and chuck wagons, lumber jacks and baked beans, football players and smorgasbords) and sap gatherin's no exception; our food of choice was sap boiled hotdogs. Dad was the sugarhouse person in those days and every day by mid-morning he'd fill a deep cooking pot with sap, throw in a bunch of good snappy hotdogs, and place the pot in a corner of the boiling back pan. Those dogs would sop up the sweetness from the sap and be ready to eat by the time the gathering crew brought in their noon-time load and tank-sized appetites.
Gerald loved those sugar dogs and had a ritual over them that I'll never forget: everyday at "hot dog time" when our tractor returned from the woods, we'd hear it's laboring engine, the clanging of chains against rusting fenders, and mixing with the din, Gerald Pease would be barking like a dog, "OOWF, OOWF, OOWF." He and his rag-tag gathering crew would come into the sugarhouse and go right to the hot dog pot. The young sap gatherers would almost "inhale" the things and go back for seconds and thirds but Gerald, a devout man, would separate himself from the rest of us, sit on a block of wood, say a silent grace, and and then savor every bite.
Pete Walbridge, like me, worked with Gerald until his death at 87 a few years back. For years, Pete went over to the Pease Farm in haying season to bale hay and tinker on all the equipment. Pete developed an almost worshipful relationship with that great man just like I did. He took Gerald places in his pickup (Gerald never drove anything but a tractor) and took breaks at the Pease table drinking chocolate raw milk and eating hard-as-a-rock ginger snaps. At those times, Gerald talked and joked and one of his favorite subjects was maple sugaring. He often said that gathering sap at the Morse Farm was one of his best experiences, always mentioning how good the hot dogs were.
A few years back we decided to offer sap-boiled hotdogs and sap-boiled eggs (a more univeral Vermont sugarhouse custom) at our sugarhouse on Maple Open House Weekend. We advertised it quite heavily and the first year we did it, as I was inside preparing to boil sap, I heard a vehicle pull up outside the sugarhouse. A door slammed followed by an approaching "OOWF, OOWF, OOWF" and in came Pete Walbridge. I had put my brother Elliott and his wife Florence in charge of the hot dogs but Pete joined right in for the whole day and returned the next day. We've been doing it now for three years and Pete Walbridge has made "sap dog" weekend an annual ritual. It's always a lot of work and he never wants to be paid. When I asked him why he does it, he just smiled and shrugged like Gerald would have..."You're doing this to honor Gerald, aren't you?" I persisted...finally he said "yup", quietly, simply, just like Gerald Pease said grace at noon.
Gotta rush off to the sugarhouse now but I'll just take time to tell you one thing: our sap has been 12% sweeter this season than last season. That means it takes less sap to make each gallon of syrup. Because of this, our syrup has an even better flavor than last year and we're making more of it! So go to our website and grab some world's best pure maple syrup.
and the Morse Farm family