And So It Goes

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Family History

At the Sugar House – Revisited

After a couple days of rain and above freezing weather, we can once again see parts of the lawn — a sure sign spring is coming.  The thought got me thinking about maple syrup.  The following article, “at the Sugar House”, talks about the business of maple syrup from the perspective of Shannon’s uncle, Alex Brown.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any markings on this article regarding the publication source or date.   — gmsc

Mrs. Alex Brown removes the boiling sap from the evaporating tank and puts it through a filter and into a bucket which will be poured into the finishing pan.

This is the time of year when winter just won’t stop but spring isn’t quite ready to start. If the weather seems frustrating to some people, others, namely the Alex Brown family of Altmar are delighted. The Browns are in the business of making maple sugar and the combination of warm days and cold nights is considered ideal by them for their process.

Compared to some of the veteran maple sugar experts in the area, the Browns are relative newcomers. They started their operation about three years ago where they learned the process from Jean and James Densmore at another location in Altmar.  This season, they remodeled a house near their home on Smokey Rd., installed new equipment and dubbed it “The Sugar House.”

Considering all aspects and angles, the manufacture of maple sugar is fairly difficult process which requires a certain amount of scientific knowledge along with many hours of hard work.

It all starts with the trees which are tapped during the beginning of March. The sap collects in buckets which have a common hose that directs liquid into a catch-tank. A specially equipped truck collects the sap from the tanks and returns to the home base and deposits the fluid in a storage basin.

The sap to sugar process gets underway when the liquid is put into a 5′ by 12′ metal evaporator. This machine is heated by oil jets and the evenly distributed sap boils at 220 degrees as it circulates. A huge plastic hood encompasses the evaporator and saves the steam which is recycled and is eventually dispersed.

Rod Brown (left) at the finishing pan checks and measures the syrup which is created there. Watching is his brother, Alex Brown.

The hot sap flows through a faucet, through a filter and is then accumulated in the finishing pan. On the finishing pan, the thick liquid is cooked over adjustable gas burners and forms the long awaited maple syrup which is then bottled or canned.  If maple sugar candy is to be made, the syrup is heated further until the moisture is gone. It is then put into molds and hardened.

As Alex Brown explained this process, he mentioned that about 40 gallons of water are required to make one gallon of syrup. Furthermore, l gallon of syrup is needed to end up with 8 pounds of candy. He mentioned that sap is as high as 4 percent in sugar content and which is measured and tested by a sap hydrometer. He added that according to State regulations, there must be 11 pounds of syrup to the gallon.  This is a requirement which he exceeds. The weight of the syrup is measured by the hydrothermic devices.

Mr. Brown also related that the best syrup comes early in the season: the first run. This syrup has a more delicate flavor. About one pint of syrup can be expected from a single tap hole he said.

Although the” Browns are fairly new to the maple sugar game, their enthusiasm for the business is as genuine as is their appreciation for the natural juices they tap from the trees. Alex Brown, his wife, and his brother Rod Brown have been assisted this sugar season by his son, Tim Brown and Tim’s friend John Rose.

The family stressed that they will most likely be at work for seven days a week at the Sugar House and that visitors are cordially invited to come out, watch the process and ask questions.  Customers can also purchase their candy, cream and syrup which is available there in various quantities.


  1. I’m thinking it was after 1973 probably 1974 or 1975ish for my brother John and Tim to help out as the article states. Herb died in March of 1973 and it was after that when my mother worked for Pat and Alex.

  2. Absolutely loved seeing this – It must have been about 1975 or so – Valerie was 3 when they were running the Sugar House full time, I know.

  3. Pat Brown says likely between 1971 and 1974. I remember driving the truck and collecting the sap. Actually all of us kids helped. I worked the hardest. The pay was lousy. Lots of good memories. Thanks for posting.

  4. Gary – my guess on this would be sometime in the 1970s… I remember Mom making maple sugar candy from the syrup from the sugar house. Thanks for posting…


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