March Field Notes: Courser Farm Sap House
An authentic sugar shack on the Courser Farm in Warner offers visitors an up-close view of the boiling down of sap as it has been done by one family for generations. Freshly made syrup is all that is sold from this wooden sap house, built in 1957 to replace a lean-to constructed to provide syrup as a replacement for sugar during World War II rationing.
Jerry Courser boils the sap that his brother Tim collects. “I began making syrup as a child in the family driveway because it was the only time I was allowed to play with fire,” he says. The Courser brothers tap family trees on their own land and, in the New England tradition, barter sap from neighbors in return for syrup. Today there are 1,000 taps providing about 200 gallons of syrup each year.
Jerry points the visitor to the top of the hill behind the shack to see, not buckets hanging from trees, but what seems like miles of plastic tubing winding through the woods down the slope feeding into his sugar house. Unlike many sugarers today the Coursers, fearing damage to their precious sugar maple trees, are reluctant to install a vacuum system to increase their yield. Instead they rely on gravity to take the sugary water to their evaporator, a series of pans set over high heat that boils it into syrup. Except for a few buckets along the road where tubing is not practical, the Coursers use only plastic tubing rather than buckets to collect the sap. “Plastic changed the whole environment for making syrup,” says Jerry. “We have the tubing for greater efficiency, the spouts for extending the life of the tree and the containers for making the syrup safer for the consumer.”
Look for Jerry Courser’s residence with the number “319 Schoondac Rd.” on his Warner mailbox. Find the sugar house 1/2 mile down toward Webster on the same side of the road. It is best to call (603) 456-3521 before going. If the sap isn’t running that day, the Coursers won’t be boiling. It’s the old-fashioned way.
— Helen Brody