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Spring is maple-sweet at Boggastowe Farm

PEPPERELL — Driving on Route 19 through Pepperell, one can’t help but notice at Shattuck Street the rustic sign nailed to a tree, handpainted with the words ”SUGAR HOUSE.” It’s a quiet advertisement for delicious, locally produced pure maple syrup.

At 20 Shattuck Street, sits Boggastowe Farm, the quintessential New England property surrounded by majestic maple trees where tapping them each spring is second nature for Kevin Ritchie. A member of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, Ritchie has continued his family’s tradition of maple sugaring, learned on the farm as a young boy from his parents.

The farmhouse, originally built in the 1700s, was named Boggastowe by Ritchie’s mother after the Native Americans who lived along the western bank of the Charles River between Boggastowe Creek and the Great Black Swamp.

New England’s tradition of collecting sap and producing maple syrup has hardly changed since it was discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans and shared with early settlers.

According to Ritchie, the northeast temperature is crucial where warm days and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow beginning in February and lasting through mid-April.

A hole is drilled into mature maple trees and a metal spout called a spile is inserted. Then a galvanized pail, with a cover to keep out snow, rain and debris, is hung to collect the colorless sap. 98 percent water and 2 percent sugar, the sap is cool and tastes slightly sweet with no hint of maple flavoring. Visitors may sample a taste straight from the tree.

“The buckets have been hung since Valentine’s Day and the season is nearing the end for me,” said Ritchie. “The season started off great guns with a couple of 60 degree days in the middle of February…the sap flows were tremendous!”

Mother nature is not always cooperative in providing the right conditions as March proved with it’s alternating temperatures. Ritchie explained, “Once March came the weather turned cold again and the sap flow slowed… nothing like the runs in February.”

Ritchie puts out between 250 and 325 taps each spring on his property as well as a few others scattered around town. “This year I put out 280 taps, which is about average.”

“It takes 40 gallons of sap (on average) boiled down to make one gallon of natural syrup and that ratio is always changing depending on how sweet the sap is,” according to Ritchie.

Comparing this year’s season to last, Ritchie anticipates making the same amount of syrup, that is 80 gallons.

“I generally boil the sap at night after work… until the sap is gone; many nights I don’t finish up until 2 or 3 a.m.” Most years the sap is gathered by Ritchie himself but this year he was extremely lucky, saying, “My son Jack just finished at Mass Maritime Academy and arrived home just as the sap began to flow. Jack gathered most of the sap this year by himself and was even able to have it done before I got home from work.”

Jack makes it clear that it’s not an obligation but enjoyment that motivates him, “I really enjoy doing it because you get to meet new people who stop by the sugar house, not to mention all the different things you can do with the syrup — candy, cream, sugar and cotton candy.” “It was my own choice to help him (dad).”

Other members of the family pitch in according to Ritchie, ” My brother Brian and nephew John, along with Jack, helped with cutting the firewood needed for boiling the sap; I usually burn between 8 to 10 cords of pine wood.” “It’s been great to have all this help around as I don’t seem to be getting any younger.”

Weekend visitors have been treated to the sight and scent of Ritchie at work boiling sap into a sweet, thick syrup and many maple treats. “We have plenty of fresh maple syrup, in various sizes, on hand available for sale throughout the year.” Visitors are welcome, but call ahead. Boggastowe Farm and Bed and Breakfast, 20 Shattuck St 978-433- 5191, noon – 4 p.m.

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