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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951

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Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951

Selected, edited, and written by Edith E. Cutting

Calendar months were less important to a farmer than were seasons of work. Entwined with the cycle of planting and harvesting, breeding and rearing, was a cycle of independent jobs that had an important place on the general farm. There was sugaring, for instance, in the spring, and there was cider making in early fall. Butchering came later in the fall, and chopping firewood was a winter’s job. So was filling the ice house. Nobody could say on what days these jobs might start, but when the weather was right, they started.

In March or April children and grown folks alike watched eagerly for the sunny days with cold enough nights to skim over the puddles. Those were the days for sugaring. Some people tapped when the bluejays came; others, when the rivers broke up. One veteran sugar maker said to tap April 1 even if the snow was crotch deep. One morning the men and children would start out loaded down with a hammer, an auger, spouts, and buckets. If the sugar “bush” (grove of maples) was near the house, they might go on foot; otherwise, these supplies were loaded onto a sleigh and the team drew them to the sugarhouse. The trees were tapped by boring a hole through the bark, not too far into the wood. Then a spout was pounded in. Before the time of metal spouts, sumac wood was favored because of its pithy center. At first, sap was caught in wooden troughs at the base of the tree; later came the wooden buckets, and then metal ones. One tree might have from one to half a dozen buckets, depending on its age and size, and everybody took care to tap at one side or the other of last year’s scars. As soon as tapping was finished, gathering began. If a light west wind was blowing, a good run of sap might be expected. In a large bush, oxen or horses would draw a gathering barrel around on a sleigh, so that the man had only to empty the buckets into the barrel. In a smaller bush, however, men often used a wooden shoulder yoke with a ten- or twelve-quart pail dangling from each end.

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