|Maple syrup is a $300 million industry, and some people call it liquid gold. Rising competition from large corporations and artificially-flavored corn syrup have forced smaller businesses to step up their game. Don Dahler met the Silloway family who turned to technology to preserve their tradition.
This month we meet the family behind Silloway Maple. Bette, Paul, Abby, David, and Jessica Lambert run Silloway Maple in Randolph Center, and they can be found at the Capital City Farmers Market year round. They offer a wide range of maple products from their excellent syrup to maple candy, maple coated almonds, and more. They have been at the market for one and a half years, but the business goes back to the 40’s.
Bette’s dad began tapping trees for Silloway Maple in 1942. Bette and family took over the business, and they have seen many changes in that time. Silloway Maple has changed from collecting sap in buckets to using tubing. They now use reverse osmosis to process their sap before boiling as well. They are wood-fired and solar-powered, and now have 6,200 taps on their property. They are always looking to add more, even joking about tapping the maples along the I-89 meridian!
One of the biggest changes to the business is their focus on marketing. Developing an online presence through their website and Facebook now means that marketing and selling takes as much or more time than making the syrup. They love being a part of the market and being able to sell directly to locals and visitors looking for great Vermont syrup. It gives them a chance to talk about their product and answer questions in person. One of the most interesting questions they have been asked is if they sell sugar-free maple syrup? They are always trying new things but they haven’t worked that one out yet!
Find Silloway Maple every week at the market. Reach them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find them on Facebook, and learn more about their business or order directly at sillowaymaple.com.
Early syrup labels from Silloway Maple
Common Sense Homesteading – February 19, 2016
by Bette Lambert
Maple Sugaring Season – A Visit to the Sugar House
Maple Sugaring Season with Silloway Maple
Maple sugaring season – the ten day forecast… sugarmakers are watching, some are heading to the sugarbush to tap. Others are finishing up logging jobs, or busily making “drops”, the two foot piece of tubing with a spout on one end, and a T on the other. The temperature must rise above freezing in the day, and fall below overnight for the sap to run. Within the next three weeks, our crew will head out with maple tapping equipment, getting the tubing up and tight where there is damage, putting on new spouts, and tapping!
We have a family owned and operated maple business in central Vermont. Our family also has a sixty-five cow dairy, and a firewood and logging business. We have been sugaring for the past seventy years, and our motto is “Silloway Maple – It Runs in the Family”. Twenty four family members (counting little ones) live in six homes along a mile of dirt road, and someone is always available to head for the sugarhouse to give a tour, and sell some of our maple products. We have a new sugarhouse with seventy solar panels (pictured at the top of the post), and still boil the sap over a traditional wood fire.
I start a tour by taking the visitors out back where there is a row of maples along the driveway. There, we have some tubing running from tree to tree, and also some of the old fashioned buckets hanging. Years ago, we hung about twenty-five hundred buckets. Each time the sap ran, we drove through the woods with a bulldozer or tractor pulling a sled with a large gathering tank on it. Tramping through the deep snow to each tree, and lugging the sap to the tank is hard work! In the seventies, we changed our operation to tubing, which runs to each tree, and connects in a system, running to a tank at the bottom of the woods. But we do not just sit back and watch! The tubing is under high vacuum, and any leaks must be tracked down and repaired. Storms and animal damage keep someone running through the woods most of the time.
The sap is hauled to the sugarhouse, where it is run through a reverse osmosis (RO) machine. The sap passes over membranes, which remove part of the water. Raw sap averages 2.5% sugar content, and the RO concentrates the sweet to about 12%. This reduces the time, labor and firewood needed to boil it into syrup.
Boiling Down the Maple Sap
Next the sap flows into the big evaporator. Everyone loves to see the roaring fire, which is fed about every seven minutes. This is a hot job! The clouds of steam rise up and out the open flaps in the roof, though sometimes you can hardly see inside the sugarhouse. The syrup moves back and forth through a system of flues, and is drawn off when it reaches the right density. It is an intense job, to keep the boiling rolling, with no scorching! The finished syrup is graded according to color and flavor, and run through a high pressure filter to remove any impurities and niter, or sugar sand.
We can the syrup in plastic jugs and decorative glass. I make maple cream, granulated sugar, maple sugar covered almonds, and candy. These are all pure maple products, with the syrup boiled to different temperatures. Many studies are showing the health benefits of using pure maple as a sweetener, as it has minerals and antioxidants, and is lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners. We like to share recipes for using maple in place of refined white sugar. No difficulty finding taste testers!
During sugaring, visitors can climb the stairs in the sugarhouse and look directly down on the boiling syrup. What a wonderful smell! We serve sugar on snow, and big old fashioned raised doughnuts. We even boil hotdogs in sap, as was done long ago. Sugaring season is short, lasting only until the weather warms and the trees start budding. We make our value added products all throughout the year, and sell at a busy farmer’s market in the capital city of Montpelier. We have a website and facebook page with recipes and photos, and ship our products throughout the United States. I enjoy writing about sugaring, and often share articles with magazines. There is a sign on the sugarhouse door, reading, “For a tour, and to buy maple products, call 802-272-6249”. When the phone rings, we leave the hayfield, dairy barn, or the supper table to greet our guests, and enjoy their company!
“Sap’s running!” Second only to “Cows are out!” this exclamation brings a thrill to farmers in the spring.
At Silloway Maple, in Randolph Center, Vermont, the call to go to the woods and tap the tree begins in February each year. The Silloway family has been sugaring since the 1940s, when Paul and his wife, Louise, bought a dairy farm, and sugared every spring. There have been many changes in technology over the years, but the end product is the same – pure maple syrup. The beginning of boiling is usually announced in the local newspaper, “Visitors are welcome at the Silloway sugarhouse.” This brings families to watch the clouds of sweet steam and sparks rising, and taste the delicious new, hot syrup.
Last year, 2014, a new sugarhouse was designed and built, set facing the south, with a narrow northern roof, and a large southern exposure to accommodate seventy solar panels. On a bright, sunny day in January, the numbers were climbing, showing the overall amount generated. On even a cold day, the system can output just over 15,000 watts. Averaging throughout the year, this energy supplies the sugarhouse needs, and about half of the power used on the family dairy farm, just down the road. Paul Lambert, partner and manager at Silloway Maple, designed and built the sugarhouse, with John Mattern, of Integrity Energy, from East Bethel, Vermont. www.ienergyvt.com John and his business partner, Amos Post, designed and installed the solar system.
The new sugarhouse has a second story, where the sap is stored prior to boiling, and visitors can stand above the arch for a spectacular view of the boiling process. Schoolchildren spread out blankets, and enjoy sugar on snow, and old fashioned raised doughnuts with syrup. A film telling the story of sugaring fills visitors in on the history of maple sugaring, and the process involved.
The Silloway/Lamberts fire the arch with wastewood from their logging operation. In recent years, Paul has branched out his stacking of wood to include several German Holzhaufens, large beehive shaped piles. The purchase of a reverse osmosis machine saves about 80% of the wood and labor required for boiling. This means a change from about sixty gallons of sap boiled to produce a gallon of syrup, to about eight. The raw sap passes through a membrane in the reverse osmosis machine, which removes much of the water. The new evaporator uses gasification, and has a series of preheater pipes inside of the steam pipe.
There are many different aspects to the sugaring business, including expert thinning of the sugarbush to promote the healthiest trees with the largest crowns, laying out of the pipeline system for maximum efficiency, the vacuum systems and tanks for gathering the sap, and trucking the sap to the sugarhouse. There, the sap is processed through the reverse osmosis machine, and, finally, boiled down into syrup. Modern sugarhouses are certified, and registered with the FDA. When the syrup reaches the proper density, it is drawn off off from the evaporator, and filtered, to remove any impurities and nitre, or sugar sand.
Each batch of syrup is graded, by filling a bottle and comparing the color to permanently colored samples. The flavor is also checked. New names for the grades are Delicate (Fancy), Rich, and Robust. All are excellent, and it is only a matter of preference to decide which one you prefer.
Silloway Maple enjoys an educational relationship with the local school, bringing a bus full of children to the dairy farm and sugarhouse each spring. They have an opportunity to see a maple tree being tapped, watch the syrup boiling, and try some of the hot, new syrup. It is exciting to have them learn where their dairy and maple products come from, and share the enthusiasm for agriculture. They come back again for Cow Day in the spring, when the Holsteins at Silloway Farms are let out to pasture for the first time of the year.
Maple cream is made by boiling the lightest grade of syrup down to the soft ball stage, rapidly cooling, and stirring it until the sticky mass turns to a silkysmooth spread. Folks are amazed that nothing is added to this pure maple product. It is a favorite on toast and bagels, or on the traditional peanut butter and maple sandwich. Granulated maple sugar is made by boiling the syrup to a very high temperature, and then stirring until it turns to a fine sugar. It is then put through a sieve, and packaged. Many people are realizing the health benefits of maple as a natural sweetener over refined white sugar. Maple has antioxidants and minerals, and can be substituted easily in most recipes. Silloway Maple also makes maple candies, and maple sugar covered almonds.
Much of their syrup is sold right from the farm, and visitors are welcome anytime. A sign on the sugarhouse door directs people to call, as there is not a “staff” member there at all times, but one of the family is available to come and show people around, tell about the sugaring operation, and offer products for sale. A unique facet of this family operation, is that twenty-four family members (counting little ones) live in six homes along a mile of dirt road. While the maple sugaring is managed by Paul Lambert, his mother Bette, David, Stuart and John Silloway are all owners as well. “Can you do the noon feeding? We need twenty dozen raised doughnuts! Can you bring more coffee to the sugarhouse?” Many needs are covered in the course of most days, by one family member or another. Indeed, when we consider the renewable resources, family is definitely the most important!
The Silloway Maple business has a website, www.sillowaymaple.com, where their products can be ordered, and an educational and entertaining facebook page. Recipes are shared, and you can get a look at what’s going on, on the farm. On March 28, from 10:00 – 6:00, and March 29, from 1:00 – 6:00, there will be an open sugarhouse, when all are welcome to visit. The address is 1033 Boudro Road, in Randolph Center, and the phone number to check on boiling times is 802-272-6249. Silloway Maple, “It Runs in the Family”.
Bette Lambert grew up on a family dairy farm, only a mile down the road from her current home. She and her husband, dairy farmer Dan Lambert raised and homeschooled six children. “A Farm Wife’s Journal,” a collection of her columns published originally in The Herald, of Randolph is now available as a book. She considers “mother” to be her highest job title, but she also makes the value added products and does the marketing for Silloway Maple Products. (She also loves working in the woods herself.) More information at Sillowaymaple.com.
Silloway Maple, in Randolph Center Vermont, really does date back to the times of Norman Rockwell. Paul Silloway started it as a dairy farm in 1940 and expanded into maple sugaring in 1942. In those days firewood and sap were gathered with a team of horses, and no fossil fuels were used at all.
Today, the maple operation is managed by Paul Lambert, Paul Silloway’s grandson, with his mother Bette, and David, Lynne, Stuart, and John Silloway. The firewood for the evaporator comes from logging waste, but the amount needed is also reduced from what it was in the old days. Most of the water in the sap is removed before it is even heated up by using reverse osmosis. The reverse osmosis is powered by sunlight from the farm’s solar PV array.
Recently, the farm needed a new building for sugaring. Paul and Bette Lambert decided to put 17.5kW of solar PVs on its roof. The solar system was installed by Integrity LLC of Bethel, Vermont. This provides power for the farm’s maple sugaring with excess going towards the dairy production. The system is grid-tied and net-metered, so summer production helps with winter usage.
When the Vermont Agency of Agriculture started a voluntary sugarhouse certification program, Silloway quickly joined in to get one more seal of approval, cleanliness, and safety.
The farm has about 6100 maple trees and the owners hope to produce 3100 gallons of pure maple syrup. In addition to syrup, they produce maple cream and maple walnuts, peanuts and almonds. Their products are sold at the farm, in retail stores, and through their website. They also have a working dairy with 65 milking Holsteins. They do logging, and sell firewood.
Bette Lambert asked that we remind everyone that the Vermont Maple Open house Weekend is March 22 and 23. Silloway Maple Farm will, of course, be participating. She said they will offer maple sugar on snow and homemade doughnuts with syrup. How could anyone pass that by?
Silloway Maple Farm is at 1033 Boudro Road, Randolph Center, Vermont. Their number is 802-728-3625.
Despite Snow And Squirrels, Sugaring Season Underway
By Martha Slater
During a late-night boil at the Silloway family sugarhouse on Boudro Road in Randolph Center, Paul and Marilyn Lambert, along with John Silloway, stoke the fire. As of St. Patrick’s Day, the Silloways had boiled off 125 gallons of maple syrup. (Herald / Tim Calabro)
David Silloway of Randolph Center is not a big fan of squirrels right now. In fact, he recently visited the Herald office to place an ad in the classifieds: “Wanted: Squirrel hunters.”
What does he have against these small, furry creatures?
Silloway, who has been making maple syrup since 1950, when he was five years old, now has a large sugarbush operation, half on Silloway Road and half on Boudro Road. All 2,200 taps are on plastic pipeline, half vacuum fed and half gravity fed, and it’s the fact that the squirrels love to chew holes in that plastic pipeline that has caused him to want to eradicate them from his property.
During a winter with heavy snow, the squirrels have a harder time finding food, and being small and light, they can walk on top of the deep snow. This puts them at just the right height to cause big headaches for sugarmakers.
“Squirrel trouble comes and goes in cycles,” Silloway observed, “and every 10-15 years is a bad year for extensive squirrel damage.”
So, what’s the attraction?
“Well, originally, we washed out the lines with a solution that had salt in it and I’m sure they liked the taste of that,” Silloway said, “but they’ve also chewed lines. Sometimes they also steal the spouts, which maybe they think are nuts!” He noted that other animals, like deer, also like to munch on the tubing, and woodpeckers “like to drill holes in it the size of a pencil in diameter.”
Due to the heavy snow, Silloway said, “It took us an extra day or two to get our lines dug out of several layers of crust, but because we did the tapping on snowshoes, it took us only about the normal two days to tap.”
Silloway’s crew includes three fulltime and seven part-time family members. He and his wife, Lynn Gately, sell about one third of their crop wholesale, and the other two thirds retail from their home. He tapped about March 1, and when he talked with The Herald on St. Patrick’s Day, had made 125 gallons, mostly fancy.
“I’m guessing that the deep snow will help the quality of the syrup,” Silloway said. “Snow on the ground at this time of year keeps the air temperature cool and makes for lighter syrup.”
While Jeff Vinton of West Braintree said he hasn’t had a lot of trouble with squirrels and woodpeckers, he said he agreed with Silloway that “the grade of syrup you get is dependent on having cold weather, a decent snow pack during the winter and good sugaring conditions in the spring. That’s what makes light syrup.”
The westernmost sugarmaker in Orange County, Vinton has all 4,800 taps on his 100 acres of sugarbush on vacuum pipeline.
“I’ve been sugaring all my life, except for from 1992-2002, then I restarted with brand new equipment,” Vinton explained. “Sugaring provides most of my income.”
Vinton has a maple gift shop at his sugarhouse on Rte 12A, and also goes to farmers markets and craft shows to sell syrup, maple candy, maple cream, Indian (granulated) maple sugar, and maple covered walnuts. He also noted that his girlfriend, Nancy Davoll, “makes wonderful maple covered doughnuts to sell.”
Vinton has help from his grown son Anthony, who has a cattle hoof trimming business, but also does all of the boiling and helps check pipeline; and a couple of other adult helpers whom he hires. When he talked with the Herald from his sugarhouse where he was boiling Monday night, he had made over 450 gallons, all fancy.
Mice in Rochester
Over in Rochester’s North Hollow, Harold Hubbard reported that he hasn’t had “any more squirrel trouble than usual. It’s not too bad normally, but I have had problems where the lines have gotten knocked down into the snow and it looks like mice have been chewing on them. About two or three years ago, coyotes dug up and chewed some of the line!”
Hubbard noted that, “We put the lines up pretty high, but in a few places whole trees or large tree limbs have come down and pulled down the lines. The snow has been pretty deep this year, but after the rain this past weekend, there was a strong enough crust to walk pretty much anywhere. Prior to that, we’d use snowshoes in the afternoon, but didn’t always need them in the morning because it was usually crusty enough for awhile.”
Hubbard and his sugaring crew, which includes his two teenage sons and two other helpers, boiled for the first time Saturday, March 15, and also boiled on Sunday. He said he hoped to boil again Tuesday, and as of Monday, had made about 30 gallons, all fancy.
Lots of Digging
Barnard sugarmaker Ralph Ward was busy boiling when the Herald called, but his wife Jeanne reported that, like Silloway, her husband has also had to contend with lines damaged by the squirrels.
“It’s been very hard going for the crew this year, digging around the trees to excavate the lines,” Jeanne said. “A lot of trees came down and damaged the lines and that has also made it hard to get around. They’re just exhausted when they get home!”
She added that they feel lucky that they use wood to fire their arch, “because oil is very expensive this year.”
The Ward sugaring crew includes Ralph’s adult sons Jason and Justin, and their friend, Jim Snelling, as well as Ralph’s brother, Ted. The sugarhouse is located on Route 12 south in Barnard. If you’re heading for Silver Lake, it’s about three miles from the Locust Creek Store, on the left.
Although they didn’t all report the same degree of problems with the heavy snows and those pesky squirrels, these area sugarmakers all share a love of this annual rite of spring in the Vermont woods.