ASHBY — Nothing says spring in New England more than maple syrup. The steam billowing from the vent of a small shack, stacks of wood and galvanized pails of sap brought in on sleds pulled by snorting draft horses.
Dave’s Sugarhouse in Ashby has the steam and the wood, but the rest of the operation has been modernized. The steam smells heavenly and the wood is neatly split and stacked, but the sap was collected using taps and plastic hoses and is stored in huge plastic containers.
Dave Pillsbury and his son, Dave Lammi, are the “dual Daves” of Dave’s Sugarhouse. Pillsbury said there are many complicated steps to making a successful batch of syrup. “We don’t run it unless it’s him or I,” he said.
The Daves begin collecting sap in February. Sap collection usually ends in early April, depending upon weather conditions. They tap trees at neighbors’ houses and on Ashby Conservation Land.
The early season sap collection is used to make the highest grade of syrup. This light syrup is used for candies, Pillsbury said. As the season goes on the syrup gets darker.
A medium grade is used for table syrup and usually the darkest grades are used for cooking.
Debbie Pillsbury, wife of Dave Pillsbury, mother of Dave Lammi and grandmother of Hunter, a third generation sugarer, explained how the sugarhouse came to be.
Around four years ago, the Daves made some syrup by boiling sap on a little stove outside the house.
“They caught the bug,” she said. Lammi, a plumber, built the sugarhouse and Pillsbury bought the equipment.
The Pillsburys, Lammi, his son, Hunter, and his brother-in-law, Michael Caruso, were manning the equipment at the open house on March 21 in Ashby.
“It’s a very interesting thing for people who’ve never seen it,” Pillsbury said.
Every six minutes a timer went off and someone stuffed split wood into the stove. Pillsbury said they go through about 10 cord of wood a season, a mixture of pine and hardwood.
The pine burns hotter, but the hardwood lasts a little longer he said. The temperature in the stove jumps about 150 degrees when the stoker closes the door.
Temperature control and moisture control are essential, according to Pillsbury. The Daves use thermometers and hydrometers throughout the process to ensure the product comes out the way they want.
Dave’s Sugarhouse is a member of the Massachusetts Maple Association. Pillsbury looked into becoming a certified organic producer. “I don’t know how you can get more organic,” he said, but the cost and effort was not worth it for a small operation.
Pillsbury said he often works with Dave Rainville, who has a sugarhouse in another part of Ashby. The two plan on buying equipment to make maple candy and maple cream next year.
Dave’s Sugarhouse syrup is available online at www.davessugarhouse.com, at the Ashburnham Country Store, Dick’s Market Garden in Lunenburg, or at the sugarhouse on 1033 Jones Hill Road in Ashby.