Chelsea Generations Sugar Together

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Front Page / Apr. 16, 2015 12:23pm EDT

Neighbors Join The Fun, Too


Doug Densmore keeps an eye on the boil while friends and family congregate in his Chelsea sugarhouse last week. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) Doug Densmore keeps an eye on the boil while friends and family congregate in his Chelsea sugarhouse last week. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) Follow Densmore Road in Chelsea (notquite Vershire) to the fork, bear to the right and continue until the buckets come into view. A set of fresh mud ruts beneath a copse of towering maples indicate a truck went through not too long ago, weaving a path among the tree trunks and through the quickly-melting snow.

Keeping on down the road, Windy Knoll Farm rolls out on western slopes from the sugarbush. On a clear day, you can see the ski slopes of Killington. Pull off where a “Maple Syrup” sign is tacked to the barn. The mailbox reads Densmore. A dog runs out to greet you.

Steam rises from the shack behind the white clapboard farm. In the doorway of the sugarhouse, a woman with rosy cheeks and rubber boots stands smiling, because it’s been a good day collecting.


Doug Densmore and his family look forward to making maple syrup together every spring at the family farm on Densmore Road in Chelsea. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) Doug Densmore and his family look forward to making maple syrup together every spring at the family farm on Densmore Road in Chelsea. (Herald / Sarah Caouette) “The buckets were overflowing,” she says, inviting you in. “Best day of the season.” She introduces herself as Sue, one of the gatherers who spent their morning hauling in buckets. Boiling has now commenced.

Inside, a man with equally rosy cheeks stokes a large furnace as a vat of hot sap turns the room into a sauna. Condensation drips from the rafters, and the man wipes his brow. A young girl with wild, curly hair dips around the corner past the wood stack, giggling into her mother’s arms.

Best Place on Earth’

Doug Densmore has been sugaring his whole life. “Growing up, I thought of this as the best place on Earth,” he says of the farm his grandparents built in the 1930s. This is a family business, yet, it isn’t about the money.”

His daughter, Sue; son-in-law, grandchildren, and mother all pitch in this time of year, and his friends who are always willing to jump on board and lend extra hands when the taps really get flowing.

The trees he taps have been tapped for three generations, and he hopes one day his grandchildren will carry on the tradition.

“I think about it every day,” he stresses.

The preference among the Densmore clan is Fancy, a golden syrup with a delicate taste, almost like honey. To perfect this art of making liquid gold, one needs the mind of a chemist, the concentration of a conductor, and the heart of a Scot.

Ernie Fritz, a documentary filmmaker from New York, has followed the Densmores over the last couple sugaring seasons, drawn by intrigue, the beauty of a long-held tradition, and wanting to truly capture this quest for sweetness that he believes is rooted deeply in our evolution.

“I’ll be here for hours,” says Densmore. “Like a machine.” He explains that the hard wood he’s been using to fuel the furnace makes for a slow-growing fire, compared to the softer woods he’s typically used in the past.

Neighbors stop by with empty mason jars to fill, looking forward to another tasty batch—a reputation built over years of delivering a quality product.

“I expect over 60 gallons this year,” guesses Densmore; a number that has been gradually increasing since 2012.

The last couple seasons weren’t as abundant as Densmore anticipates this season will turn out to be, when you consider all the elements that come into play—mineral quality, temperature, age and health of the trees, drainage, even wind direction.

“The saying goes, ‘Wind from the east, sap runs least. Wind from the west, sap runs best,’” quotes Densmore.

A fount of knowledge, his grandkids call him “Sugarhouse Grandpa.”

In Their Blood

Sue is another one who knows her stuff, coming from a line of sugarers. It’s in her blood.

“There’s so much science involved,” she says. “For the longest time, they thought sap ran in one direction— from the roots up, or from the branches down—now we know it’s both directions, simultaneously. Though, personally I think knowing too much about the science of it takes some of the mystery out of the whole experience.”

Everyone there agreed, as Densmore dipped his sugar skimmer in for one last test.

“They call this a leather apron,” he says over his shoulder. “I don’t know why, but that’s what my grandfather always called it.”

His mother, Phyllis Densmore, chuckles from her seat. “When I used to have the job of watching the gauge, my legs would burn hot from being so close.”

Densmore eyes the formation of dripping sap. It has reached its ideal boiling temp and has become syrup.

The pour valve on the side of the tank is released into a bucket, which is then passed to Sue, who runs the steaming syrup through the filter. For the last stamp of approval, a sample is held up to the window to be examined in natural light. Out in the farmyard the sun is setting on the knoll.

It’s as close to Fancy as you could get.

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