NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring 1951
YORK STATE FARM LORE
Selected, edited, and written by Edith E. Cutting
THE YEAR’S SPECIAL JOBS
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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