The Kettle Tender: Boiling Down the Name.
The name for this blog comes from a series of 19th century oil paintings depicting “Sugaring Off” parties in Fryeburg, Maine. Painted by artist Eastman Johnson, these scenes portrayed a spirited community coming together to celebrate the first boil of the maple sugaring season.
While “sugaring off” is a term rarely used anymore, the tradition of gathering around a pot of boiling maple sap continues today. We love how sugaring brings together our friends, neighbors, and family, to celebrate the season and the art of boiling down syrup.
In Johnson’s paintings, the person in charge of the boiling process was referred to as the kettle tender. The reflectiveness of this figure in the paintings says many things about how and why we sugar. Sugaring, like all aspects of farming, is a way of life. It is demanding, but it is also freedom. It provides us the opportunity to support ourselves in a self-reliant way, creating a fair living with our own hands.
Once people visit our sugar house and see how much work is involved in making maple syrup many people ask us why do we do it. Well here is my answer. We identify with the kettle tender. We love living closely with nature and are willing to work hard to make a living from what it provides. We approach our work with intention and determination and it gives us peace and purpose. We are proud that we are a resource to our family, friends, and neighbors and are a part of strengthening our community.
We make maple syrup on the cusp of seasons, when winter is waning, but still grips the night with freezing temperatures. Each day, the sun rises a little earlier, and we celebrate the promise of the coming spring and the warmth that it will provide. While methods and techniques have changed greatly over many years, this New England tradition of spending long days out in the woods and long nights in the sugar house boiling down maple syrup is age-old. Fewer things have felt more natural to us. And sometimes, when the crowds are gone, and it's a still cold clear night, when the stars shine like lasers cutting down to earth, I feel the warm heat of the fire we build, smell the sweet scents of the boiling sap we collect, and know that somehow we are making more than pure maple syrup.