Smith serv­ing up syrup for 80 years

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE MATHIESON dave.mathieson@amher­st­ Twit­ter: @ADN­dave

Some might call him a scholar of syrup, but not Gor­don Smith.

“I’ve just al­ways loved work­ing in the woods,” said Smith.

The 82-year-old says he has been ven­tur­ing into sugar camps since he was two years old.

“On our old home farm, when I was a kid, we had a sugar woods. We used to go in with a horse and stay for the week,” said Smith. “As a kid, I used to go in quite of­ten. We gath­ered a bucket at a time and put the sap in a wooden tub on a sled that the horse pulled.”

Smith has been a fix­ture in the lo­cal farm­ing com­mu­nity his en­tire life, start­ing the Fort Equip­ment deal­er­ship in Amherst.

“We sold it in 1980,” said Smith.

Since 1996, Smith has worked each spring at the Donkin’s Maple Sugar Woods.

“I’m qual­ity con­trol. The taster I guess.”

He says syrup tastes dif­fer­ent through­out Canada and, also, within Cum­ber­land County.

“Most peo­ple claim it’s the way they make it but the truth of the mat­ter is, it’s what’s in the ground.

It’s what’s in the sap when it’s made where you get the dif­fer­ent tastes,” said Smith.

“We get a dif­fer­ent taste here at Mac­can Moun­tain than they do in Ad­vo­cate and Westch­ester. It will all be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.”

He says the taste re­mains the same year-to-year but can change through­out a sin­gle sea­son.

“You also get a dif­fer­ent taste from early in the sea­son to late in the sea­son.”

A big part of Smith’s job is check­ing the thick­ness of the sap.

He con­trols the tem­per­a­ture of the sap through­out the en­tire boil­ing process and, most im­por­tant, re­moves the sap from the evap­o­ra­tor when it turns into syrup.

“I check it man­u­ally quite of­ten. We call it sheet­ing.”

Smith picks up a square, tin scoop, turns a valve and pours about one-fifth of a cup into the scoop.

He then pours the scoop of syrup into a pot, look­ing for just the right con­sis­tency.

“When it sheets off, and hangs off there about half an inch, like ice com­ing off a tin roof, then I know it’s syrup,” said Smith.

Once it’s ready, he turns the valve wide open, let­ting the syrup flow into a large pot. Once full, he takes the pot and pours it into a con­tainer with a cloth strainer in­serted in­side.

The syrup is then poured into a stain­less-steel fin­ish­ing tank.

“Syrup has to be ex­act or it won’t take.

If it’s too thin it will turn sour, if it’s too thick it will crys­tal­ize too much,” said Smith. “If it’s done just right it will keep for a long time.”

He says some of the more mod­ern op­er­a­tions pour the syrup au­to­mat­i­cally when it’s ready.

The Donkin Sugar Woods taps about 7,500 trees, and on good day’s it takes about 40 gal­lons of sap to make one gal­lon of syrup.

“When we started this year, it was prob­a­bly an 80-to-1 ra­tio, but to­day I’d say it’s about 40-to1,” said Smith. “We go through 100 gal­lons of sap an hour here when we’re go­ing good.”

This year was the ear­li­est start to the syrup sea­son, Feb. 16.

By the end of the sea­son at least 30-cord of wood will have been burned in the evap­o­ra­tor.

“Some days we’ll go through a cord of wood,” said Smith.

When the sap is flow­ing fast, Smith will work along­side about six other peo­ple at the camp and al­ways en­joys meet­ing peo­ple who come to the camp, both new­com­ers and re­turnees.

“Just to be here with the fel­las and meet all the peo­ple is great,” said Smith.

“I al­ways en­joy this time of the year.”

“Most peo­ple claim it’s the way they make it but the truth of the mat­ter is, it’s what’s in the ground.

Gor­don Smith


Af­ter de­ter­min­ing the syrup is ready, 82-year-old Gor­don Smith pours it from one pot into a sec­ond con­tainer that has a cloth strainer in­side. The syrup is then put into a stain­less-steel fin­ish­ing tank.

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