Patterson Maple Farms Sugar House - 2019 PCN Tour

Good morning and welcome to Patterson Farms. My name is Linda Neal and I've worked here at Patterson's for 28 years now, so I've seen a lot of changes. 

Before we start going into the sugarhouse I'd like to give you a little idea of what the family is here. In the early 1920s, Grandma and Grandpa Patterson, and that would be Orin and Mabel Patterson, started here on the farm. They had a little dairy of cattle. They tapped a few sugar bushes up on top of the hill and made a little bit of syrup. And how they made their syrup was they used wooden buckets and wooden spiles. They tapped their trees with a hand auger, brought their sap down to their backyard with a horse-drawn sleigh and the sap and they boiled outside on a flat pan. 

Patterson Maple Farms

When they passed the farm down to Clifton and Alberta Patterson, they changed a little bit. They built a sugar house. They got a wood-fired evaporator, put in twenty six hundred buckets that Richard and Robert and Mary Lee had to dump twice a day. 

When it passed down to Richard that's when it really changed. We got into tubing and a lot more taps. We got up to 87,000 taps and 26 different sugar bushes. We got a new evaporator. We built a larger sugar house. 

Now we're down to our fifth generation, Terri and Terry Patterson. So we're changing every day. I've been very lucky to work with three out of the five generations. Our seasons run anywhere from the end of January into April. We need freezing nights, warmed up days to about 41 degrees, and a westerly wind. And if you don't have that three combination, the sap doesn't run very well.

There's 143 different species of maple. Now in our area here we have red, silver, black swamp, striped. But the best tree to make your syrup from is the American Sugar Maple and that's what we basically tap here. Trees have to be 30 years old before we tap them and about 10 inches in diameter. We'll put one tap in the tree. As the trees grow larger and larger we may put two or three taps in the tree. But here at Patterson's that's as far as we go. It doesn't hurt your trees to be tapped every single year. 

Mother nature knows when to turn the sap off when it's ready for the leaves to come out and if you look at this cross cut here of a sugar maple tree, you can see the old tap holes this shows you that it does not hurt your trees to be tapped every year. Putting a new hole in the tree. It just grows right on over. 

This tree was 143 years old when it had to come down after a storm and it was giving sap at about 30 years and it was still giving sap when it was cut down. 

When sap comes from a sugar maple tree it's clear like water, about two percent sugar, and a two percent sugar it takes 43.7 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. So we need a lot of sap to make a lot of syrup. Now you say with so many different kinds of maple trees, how do you tell a sugar maple? Well the way I do it because it's the easiest way, I look at the leaves. And on a sugar maple leaf it has five points to it. No other maple tree does. When there's no leaves on the trees you can look at the twigs and on a sugar maple twig it grows and v shapes. No other maple tree does. Now when our guys get really good at it all they have to do is look at the outside bark. It has a very distinctive look and feel to it. 

Now the first people who made maple syrup were the Indians. And how they did it was they took a tomahawk or hatchet and they would put a great big slice in the tree, put a piece of bark under that slice and the sap would run down and into their birch buckets but they pitched on the inside to carry their sap back to either their teepees or their sugar camps out in the woods. And how they boiled is they had a hollowed-out log and they would put their sap in the hollowed-out log. Heat rocks up, drop the rocks into the sap and that's how they made their sugar and they kept it in sugar blocks just like this. This is how they kept their syrup. Now if they wanted syrup they would just scratch a little off, add water back to it and it would become syrup again. 

Now to tell whether it's sugaring season we normally look at a calendar and we know that about the end of January it's time to get ready start tapping your trees and getting ready for the next sugaring season. The Indians didn't have that and how they could tell that it was sugaring season is by the moon phases. Now in a year there's always 13 full moons and it was the third full moon of the season that they knew was a sugar moon and that's when they usually started making their maple syrup. Third full moon in this year was around the 22nd of March and that's when they would have started to make their syrup. 

How they got their calendar is by looking at the turtle and on the turtle's shell there's always 13 cylinders on the top of the shell that was the 13th full moons and the little cylinders on the outside of the turtle shell is always 28 and that was the 28 days in between each full moon. 

Now when the Indians taught the colonists to do it that's where changed a little bit. They used a hand auger where the hole in the tree started from and wooden spiles. Now they made these wooden spiles out of sumac or elderberry bushes because they have a pithy inside. They would drill the inside out, whittle down one end, that end would go into the tree and the sap would flow down and into their wooden buckets. They would boil their sap in big black iron kettles and as they got thicker and thicker they would go from one kettle to another and at the end they made sugar blocks just like the Indians did and kept them in little muslin bags. Kept them in the root cellar or their attics where it was cool. 

If anybody has ever read the Little House on the Prairie books, Laura's mother asked her to go to the root cellar and bring up a brick of sugar and this is what they were talking about was maple sugar. Richard's grand folks also used the wooden buckets and the wooden spiles. They had snowshoes that they used to go out in the woods to do their tapping and their lanterns to bring down. 

Over on this wall we have one of the older sap haulers, which was drawn by a horse, and they would there's little springs on the top they would pour their sap in that would keep the twigs and the leaves out of it. And the horse would bring it down and they would boil from that. 

When Richard's folks took over they went to the metal buckets and the metal spiles. These spiles were made out of tin and cast-iron and you can see how big these and the wooden spires are. So it took a pretty big hole in the tree. Took the tree about two years to heal over or bellybutton overs what we call it. We also had very heavy tappers and we would have to carry out, plus a jug of gas, and do our tapping with those. 

Now when people think of maple syrup they often think of Vermont. Well I'm here to tell you Vermont's not the only state that makes maple syrup. If you look at my map up here I have all the states that make maple syrup and they make enough to be in the United States stat books. They go as far north as Minnesota and Iowa and as far south as Tennessee. Now all the states use different maple trees. All maple trees give sap. They all make syrup but it is going to taste a little different. So each state that you visit and you try their maple syrup it will taste a little different. Different soil, different growing season, and different trees do the different grades or their different tastes of syrup. 

We are now using our lighter, battery-operated tappers. We also have tubing instead of buckets and you might have seen some of this tubing as you came up Gurnee Road this morning. Now the light blue tubing we string tree to tree, it then runs into a larger line which we call our main lines. The main lines then run into big catch tanks that we have at every sugar bush. 

Now what a sugar bush is just a group of maple trees in different areas. Some of them are large bushes, some are very small. Depends on how many trees are in that area. The big main lines then run into big catch tanks and that's where we pick up our sap with our trucks and they go around and pick it up. We also use a different kind of spile. This is called a health tree spile. It's only 5/16ths. It gives us just as much sap as the larger taps do and it only takes our trees about six months to heal over instead of two years. 

So each generation learned a little bit better how to take care of their trees. From their Indians putting great big slices in the tree and leaving scars, down to the new health tree spiles that we use today. 

Now tubing isn't a new concept. In the early 1800s, Canada made metal tubing and spiles and which they hooked together, they had miles and miles of this, and they would put it all together, tap their trees but it didn't work very well because once the sap started to flow into the metal tubing and it froze at night like it was supposed to, it popped apart. With the plastic tubing that we use it contracts and goes back to its original size.

Related Links:
When you click links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission. Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the eBay Partner Network.