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Snow spread across our valley as though a winter desert had enveloped the land. The winter was harsh. All about the forest, signs of animals pushing snow aside to get to the ground to find food were present. Shelled acorns and tattered sapling roots seemed to be the meals of their day.

At the back of my parents’ home, I trudged through the snow-filled yard to join my father who was scattering corn about the freshly shoveled chicken pen. Back in the house, my grandmother was busily making griddle cakes. As I walked, a light fog began to roll over the yard and with it the smell of burning fruitwood made its way to my nose. The Sugaring House, which sat atop the back field of our farm, was slowly cooking sap and the moisture clouded the air.

When my father finished feeding the chickens, we walked to the house and headed inside where my family was already seated in the dining room. In the middle of the country farm table, a large platter of griddle cakes were heaped over each other and three creamer pitchers were filled with fresh maple syrup. As we began to eat, my grandmother paused and looked at the fog which was now overtaking the farm. “You know, that Sugaring House fog reminds me of story I once heard,” she said as she began to pour syrup on her griddle cakes.

Years before the town of Donbridge was fully populated, the founder of the town, William Donbridge, brought his bride to be, Emma, to the Hudson Valley. They planned to make a life in the New World and found the area where the town of Donbridge was soon to be.

Previously, the town was owned by a Dutch Lord, but with Dutch control of the region now in English hands, William Donbridge was awarded the land by the King of England. And so with that notion, William and Emma set up their home in an abandoned cabin at the far end of the then abandoned town.

As the first winter came to pass in their valley, it was clear no protection from the prevailing winds existed and when the snow blew it was no surprise it created towering drifts. To survive the winter, William decided that a wind barrier would be needed and in the late spring, he planted ten thousand maple trees which were a gift given to him by his soon to be father-in-law who was a merchant fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Time passed and the settled Dutch town later became known as Donbridge.  The community grew and along with it the trees William had planted and which became forever known as the Maple Timber Forest.

It should be noted that many of the settlers of Donbridge were from the heart of New England and so sugaring was not an uncommon practice for them. Never a person nor traveler had ever seen an entire forest of maple trees, and one such as vast as the likes of the Maple Timber Forest was rare to see. So when the Allen family came to Donbridge from the town of Westminster, Vermont, it was not a surprise that they opened the first sugaring houses of Donbridge which surrounded the town.

Years passed and soon a harsh winter overtook the region. Animals dug through snow drifts, deer tore and ate bark from trees. Turkeys scratched the bare ground searching for what food they could find and squirrels scattered about digging holes looking for their last buried acorns. Donbridgian farmers soon began to feel the impact of the winter as livestock was taken from their barns by the likes of wolves and coyotes. All folks in Donbridge seemed to worry, but the Allens, who braved the harshest of winters in Vermont, feared nothing and soon came up with a plan.

As the Maple Forest of Donbridge was now primed and ready to produce sap, the Allens took to the forest and instead of tapping their normal four hundred trees, they decided to tap all ten thousand maples. Buckets became scarce and soon, water pitchers, water bowls, tea pots, and every form of kitchenware that could be found was in the forest collecting sap. The town baked bread upon stones as the ironware was in the forest collecting sap.

With every tree producing sap, more sugaring houses were needed and so the local mill began sawing lumber and nearly twenty new sugaring houses were built bringing the total to nearly eighty. The sap began boiling away in the evenings and, soon after, a massive fog over took the valley and all of Donbridge disappeared.

Soon maple syrup began to flow and the Allen family scattered hundreds of plates about the grounds of Donbridge and topped each one off with fresh syrup.  As the smell of sugar entered the fog-filled air, deer, porcupines, squirrels, and various other woodland creatures began filtering through the hazy barrier.

Outside the fog-filled wall, coyotes and wolves were not inclined to follow the other animals. The smell of burning wood combined with the foggy moisture warded them off knowing well enough that the townsfolk of Donbridge would surely hunt them. The syrup saved the woodland creatures of Donbridge and the smoke-filled fog protected the town from future attacks of predators for every winter to come.

As Grandma sat up to clear her plate, a group of animals came through the fog-filled fields of our parents’ farm. My grandmother smiled as she saw them climb the steps to the porch that attached to the door of the dining room. Grabbing the small pitcher of syrup from the table, she poured some on her plate and slid the door open, placing the plate upon the porch floor. The animals began to lick the plate in harmony, and off in the distance far beyond the fog the sound of a coyote or wolf could be heard howling in dismay.

Midwife Sutton’s Griddle Cakes

1 1/3 c. buckwheat flour   

2 T.. honey

3  t. baking powder

3 T. olive oil

1 egg

¾ t. sea salt

1 ¼ c. milk           

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl (it’s important to stir the ingredients well). With a small ladle, pour a small amount of the batter onto an already warm iron skillet on medium heat. Make sure the iron skillet is greased with butter or oil lightly. 

Flip the griddle cake when tiny air holes begin to form on the front side. Once flipped, the cake will finish in about 2 minutes. Check the cake every once in a while to see if it has browned on the other side. When brown, remove from the griddle and serve with jam, honey, or maple syrup.

R D Vincent is the author of the Donbridge Series at www.donbridgeseries.com

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Read or Share this story: https://www.wisfarmer.com/story/life/food/2019/02/14/how-maple-syrup-saved-village-local-wildlife-during-harsh-winter/2851318002/