It is not unusual for Cabot farmers in the heart of maple country to run a small side business simmering down the spring sap of maple trees into pure, golden sweetness. Sometimes they even spend the whole night in their sugarhouse to keep an eye on the boil. Sarah and Mark Putnam, however, spent every night there for more than two years back when they were newlyweds.
The couple met when Mark was working near Sarah’s family’s farm in Bradford, Vermont. He came first to borrow an air compressor for a flat tire. “Then he came back two weeks later and asked me out,” Sarah said with a smile. She was scheduled to leave soon after for a work exchange in Australia. Mark soon joined her, but “we came home in time to sugar,” she said.
Sarah had grown up on her family’s dairy farm and Mark’s grandparents all farmed. Both knew they wanted to farm and they decided to settle on a piece of land in Newbury that had been the back pasture of Mark’s paternal grandfather’s farm. While they established themselves, they made a one-room home out of the storage part of the sugarhouse that Mark’s grandpa had built in the 1940s.
Walking through the 14- by 20-foot storage space recently on the way to the sweet, steamy evaporator room, the couple laughed at the memory of living in such tight quarters for so long. In the main part of the sugarhouse, their son, Dustin was manning the evaporator in the company of Sarah’s uncle, Richard Emerson, a former Cabot dairy farmer himself.
Dustin, now 25, was born right after the Putnams finally moved next door into a cozy post and beam cape they had built themselves. A barn and a small herd of registered Jersey cows followed. The family continued to log and sugar while raising Dustin and his younger sister, Megan, who both graduated from Vermont Technical College.
The family recently bought a neighboring farm and Dustin has moved back to run the maple operation and work with his parents. Megan is assistant herd manager at another farm.
The new farm came with a sugarhouse, too, and it’s bigger than the one the Putnams currently use. Dustin will probably move his Chamberlin Hill Maples operation down there but he hasn’t quite gotten to it yet. It’s not too far down the road, but it will be a shift for the family.
The recent boil was just the sixth of the year and Dustin said he had about 400 to 500 gallons of sap to boil that day. The process, which would take several hours, would yield about 10 to 13 gallons of syrup. His dad helped add wood to the fire under the evaporator and Dustin scooped up some sap to see how it was coming.
A row of small glass bottles from each of the preceding batches sat on a window sash in the sugarhouse. They were shot through with sunlight on the bright day, clearly showing off their range of color from light straw gold to darker mahogany.
Sarah had brought out a cookbook she put together a couple years ago explaining the history and cultural significance of maple syrup, including some favorite maple-inspired recipes like maple granola, maple baked beans, maple cucumber “tongue” pickles and homemade maple-sweetened crackers. Maple, she explains, has been a part of her life as long as she can remember. The farm’s sugarhouse even features in peaceful, pastoral paintings she creates in an airy studio with a view of the valley. “The farm inspires me,” she says.
As for the family’s favorite ways to eat maple, Dustin said he likes his mom’s maple baked beans and Mark is fond of Sarah’s fresh donuts dipped in warm maple syrup. Uncle Richard likes his straight up. “I drink it right out of the evaporator,” he said with a chuckle.
Sarah Putnam’s Maple Crackers
Sarah created this sweet-salty snack cracker using the family’s maple syrup for her children when they were small. The crisp crackers go perfectly with Cabot cheddar, of course. The thinner you roll them out, the crisper they’ll be, but don’t sweat it – they’re good on the slightly thicker side, too. (Note: We used King Arthur white whole wheat flour so our crackers came out a little darker than Sarah’s original recipe with all-purpose flour; if you decide to try using the slightly thirstier white whole wheat flour, add an extra tablespoon of water.)
2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon fine salt
½ cup (1 stick) Cabot unsalted butter, cold and cut into ¼-inch cubes
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt or flake sea salt such as Maldon, or more to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper, or lightly grease them. Combine flour and fine salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse once to mix. Add butter cubes and use 6 or 7 short pulses to blend until the mixture forms mostly even crumbs; a few larger bits of butter are OK. Whisk together maple syrup, water and vanilla extract and add to flour mixture. Pulse another 5 to 7 times just until dough comes together in large clumps. Place about half the dough on a lightly floured counter and roll into a rough rectangle as thin as you can, ideally about 1/3-inch thick. Trim edges to make an even rectangle. Sprinkle dough evenly with about 1 tablespoon coarse or flake salt. Give dough a final light roll to press salt into it and to get to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut dough into roughly 1 1/2 -inch squares. Place on cookie sheets and bake 7 to 9 minutes until golden brown at the edge and dry to the touch. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes about 60 1 ½-inch crackers.
Visit a sugarhouse at a Cabot farm near you
Vermont – Vermont Maple Weekend is March 25-26 and includes The Corse Farm in Whitingham, Rupert Valley Holsteins (the Louries) in West Rupert, and Missisquoi Valley Farm (the Coutures) in Westfield.
In Massachusetts, Pomeroy Sugar House
offers sugaring breakfasts Friday through Sunday until April 2.
New York –New York Maple Weekends
finish up the weekend of March 25-26 and includes Dry Brook Sugar House (of Chambers Valley Farm) in Salem.