Opening not quite three months after I was born, you know I have an affectionate affinity for OLD STURBRIDGE VILLAGE – OSV, and enjoy my visits for special events, or just to stop in when nearby. During CHRISTMAS BY CANDLELIGHT at the village in December, my docent friend Susan said to look for the members’ only announcement for an EVENING OF ILLUMINATION in March. On January 31 the email came in announcing ticket sales, I emailed Emily, she called me back, and guess what? I was the first to book a visit. Surprised? And, at the same time I could experience MAPLE DAYS and SUGAR CAMP – if nothing else, jump below to see what I learned about 1830s sugaring.

From OSV’s website. “How did New England families spend their evenings before the intrusion of texting, telephones, TVs, and computers? Visitors to Old Sturbridge Village will get a rare chance to find out as they tour the historic Village lit only by candles, oil lamps, lanterns, and firelight during Old Sturbridge Village’s “Evening of Illumination.” … Tour the Village Common, where guests can visit select homes and shops to see how early New Englanders spent their evenings in the days before electricity. Visitors will be treated to music and storytelling throughout the tour and will see Village artisans at work by candlelight.”

The sun was almost down at 6:10 when my tour began

In the visitor’s center we were introduced to a number of lighting instruments – candle holders, lanterns, a small oil lamp that sat in a pottery candle holder, but could be removed for use with a candle (small item in center left of table). The crimping on the tin sconces (remember I made two during my Boarding with the Bixbys, and they are proudly hanging on my porch) serves two functions – strengthening of the tin, and additional reflection surfaces to cast light in different directions. The lantern sides on the left in the lower image are made of cow horn instead of glass, or mica as was sometimes used.

It was then a hike to the far end of the Common and the Salem Towne House. Two rooms and the large center hallway were readied. In the hallway you can see from two candles the light amplified by the hanging mirror. We were also told that the varnish on furniture helps the illumination, as does jewelry and silk clothing which have reflective properties. In the dining room the Lustre Ware china also doubles with reflecting the light during mealtime. Just so you know, I never use flash, only available light with my photography.

Back down the Common to the Fitch House to learn about the science of candles and see shadow pictures. Something I have seen here before, but needed the refresher. Candles are solid, and do not burn, heat turns the wax into a liquid, but it is the gases from the liquid wax that feed the flame. I was reminded of The Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday, a six part series on YouTube. This time making a note for myself as I exited, and above now is the link for all of us to learn from – enjoy. There must be something strange on my lens causing those strange blue ghosts from the flames.

back around the corner to the “Small House” the couple shared how an evening would be spent reading a paper, thinking of relatives, and making goodies to eat.

Then to the Friends Meeting House. Singing there, now in its twentieth year, were the Old Sturbridge Village singers. Now, more important learning. You should know that OSV, as a living history museum, portrays New England life in the 1830s, but “Did you know that…” (yes my monthly history article in my newspaper starts that way) the song AMERICA dates from 1832? The group concluded singing AMERICA, and as I was leaving I verified what I heard the conductor say so I could make a note to research and share. I learned that based on an “Old English Air” and the tune GOD SAVE THE KING, the words to AMERICA were written by Samuel Francis Smith in Boston, July 4, 1832, for a children’s celebration. AMERICA served as one of the national anthems of the United States before the adoption of THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER as the official U.S. national anthem in 1931. And, now you also know.

Stops next were at the Richardson House where a woman was practicing fortune telling for an upcoming social. Then the tin shop where I “apprenticed” while Boarding with the Bixbys. The evening ended with a light fare, music and dancing in the Bullard Tavern. While enjoying my fare I watched the keeper making flip – a rum drink heated with a 1200 degree poker from the fire. Tasting some, it needs an acquired taste.

And, leaving for the evening, outside lanterns were accumulating from the guides finishing up with their groups.

The evening was nice, and with my current walking condition, group tours I should put on hold. Groups left every ten minutes, each stop was to be eight minutes for a presentation. A fun almost two hours.

But I was “in my element” Saturday, first visitor when the village opened, and I made all the Maple Days stops having excellent docents all to myself for a great exchange of information. Follow along with me now for this new insight into early sugaring.

Always one of my favorite views entering the village – and just as the back roads I travel, a different view each time of the year.

I headed to the “Goods from the Woods” exhibit area, off the beaten track behind the “new, old” cabinet shop. I never before realized it was there. Heading up the hill, I saw the Sugar Camp.

then back to visit with the fellow boiling the sap – all to myself, no rush, and with all the folks I have chatted with in the village, a knowledgeable and personable chap – sorry I never asked his name. It is a process starting with the sap from the trees, right kettle, as some liquid is boiled off the kettle is moved and a new kettle started.

it was early, chilly, but warm fireside

turning around I saw this tap in a tree. My docent explained how they made the wood tap, and work the top grooves so the sap would not freeze. Care had to be taken to get gravity correct for a flow, and to position the tap to shelter as much from the wind as possible so the sap would not miss the wooden trough below. Intuitive science.

I planned my route to follow the process to the end result of “maple sugar.” At the pottery shop I visited with Caitlyn. I met her in the fall when I visited with volunteer friend, Tony. Caitlyn is a fellow at OSV learning the various trades hoping to someday be on the staff. She showed me how they make the sugar molds. When I read about the sugar molds I was thinking I was going to see molds similar to what are decoratively carved for butter. I was totally wrong. The conical pottery mold is like a flower pot. sloping sides and made with a hole at the bottom. She explained the maple syrup is then poured into the cone with a wood plug at the bottom. As it cools molasses sinks to the bottom and the sugar crystallizes at the top. When hardened the plug is pulled and molasses drains. Turning the cone over the sugar slides out. I also was thinking this a cone, more like a triangle but the sides are just conical to a slight degree so that when turned over and the solid sugar just slides out. More on this later. Below is Caitlyn making a mold and showing it to me close up.

Stopping next at the tin shop I saw graters to be used to break down the cones of sugar (and you were thinking syrup was the end product).

Now is the time to share some information I received with OSV emails (you should sign up – and also join OSV at the NARM level).

“Today, when one thinks of maple, they usually think of maple syrup poured over fresh pancakes or waffles, but in the early 19th century, maple sugar was the ultimate goal – not syrup! Syrup would grow mold easily and therefore, most maple sap was boiled down into sugar, which would last much longer. First, the sap was boiled to produce a thick syrup. Then it was left to cool and settle for a short while, after which it was boiled for a second time in order to produce granulated maple sugar. To keep the contents from boiling over, a small piece of butter or fat was sometimes added.” And some fast facts:   The production of maple syrup is one of only a few agricultural processes in North America that is not a European colonial import. Maples are usually tapped beginning between 30 and 40 years of age. Maples can continue to be tapped for sap until they are more than 100 years old. Once temperatures stop fluctuating between below-freezing at night and above-freezing during the day, the sap stops flowing.

without the crowd from the previous night I was able to see the painted tinware that had been discussed. Never learned of this in the shop before. Below are various graters made. BUT IMPORTANT. A new quest for Ray. At the first stop last night was an amazing hanging tin lamp, that could be taken off the hook, set on the table, and adjusted to a pleasing height standing there. Again there was one in the tin shop – first time I ever have seen it. LOOK above and on the right you will see the weighted inverted funnel shaped stand, the adjustable candles, and the hook at the top. Maybe I can commission the Tin Shop to make me one. Below the graters on exhibit.

Was I in luck, George was there with his team. I always have fun with him and learn a great deal. When we were on the road passing the pottery shop heading toward the Freeman Farm he explained that the roadbed cut into the hillside was for a proposed railroad. The line was never completed because the developer went down with the Titanic. George said there was a book called THE TITANIC RAILROAD. You know me, even though a tad expensive, I found and bought a copy for myself, now due in.

GEORGE – One of the reasons to visit and spend time at OSV.
A wealth of information from this raconteur as you ride.

In the Fitch House this young man was making band boxes and other small items. He pointed out the fireplace insert which I never noticed before.

And then the final stop – The Small House – to see the final step of the process of the maple syrup cooked down into more desirable sugar loaves. Normally this would be done at the Sugar Camp. This was amazing – and again, the end product desired is not syrup as I quoted above from an OSV email.

below is the syrup mold to soon be filled with the syrup – note the wooden plug at the bottom

then time to boil again, rotating often the molds. As the sugar solidifies, molasses settles out to the bottom.

here you see some molasses drippings at the outside bottom of the mold

and some of the final products – the cones.

above are some finished cones – several of these are a couple years old – and some grated granulated sugar. Hopefully upon looking, you are wondering what I had to ask – why the different cone colors?

well, as the season progresses from early to late, the syrup changes color from light to dark. The cone at the rear would have been the last collection most likely as buds were starting to come out on the trees.

A great two and a half hours, and I learned much, and hope I have shown you something you have not seen and experienced. My phone rang, and David, Mari and Alex were almost at the Publick House – our plan to meet for a special lunch. We were seated early and had a leisurely lunch with fun conversation. As I had (left) when David met me here in December, I again had the salmon plate, although our server said they had changed the manner of preparation. Still great, I skipped supper when I got home.

the kids joined me browsing an antique shop before we said goodby – they heading back to Boston and me backroads home – getting a pair of different candlesticks at a shop in Barre. One last thing to share. I found this in my room at the OSV lodges when I arrived. A special treat from Emily.

Well, make sure to visit Old Sturbridge Village – stay safe and well, as always, luv, RAY

and, one final image that Mari took at lunch at the Publick House – me waving out a candle – did not want to get spittle on the lava cake we were sharing.

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