Our family has been maple sugar producers for at least five generations, going on both sides of my (Dana’s) family. Up until this past weekend, we were fortunate enough to have four living generations to share the stories and experiences of the wonders and frustrations of the maple season with. Ernest Batchelder, my maternal grandfather, who gave us our first pan we used to make syrup with in NY, passed away quietly at the wonderful age of 99 ½ years old.
Grampy Batch, as he is known in our family, was born in a very different time in 1915. Some of the earliest pictures of him being in a horse drawn carriage with his mother. He was always fascinated with technology and in particular, radio. As a boy he used to share messages with a friend on the telegraph, this grew to having his own radio license and radio, to becoming a radio engineer. He eventually become Chief Engineer for a local radio station, helping that and other radio stations with setting up transmitters and towers and in the evolution into FM radio. His fascination with technology extended well beyond his retirement, as he had one of the first personal computers that was available, and just a few short weeks before his death, ordered a new microwave from Amazon and was reading and sending emails on his iPad.
Grampy Batch was also one of the finest sugarmakers I have ever known. Many people can make good syrup, he made excellent syrup. There was a time where he took a hiatus from being Chief Engineer to farm full time, and had a fairly large for the time sugarhouse. It was like ours, truly a family business and my mother tells of working in the woods during sugaring and having to scrub the syrup pans before going to school during the season. He often made a very light syrup, which is part due to the trees and weather, but part due to his craftsmanship. He told of one store returning his syrup as its customers did not believe that real maple syrup could be so light in color.
After going back to engineering and eventually retiring, he continued to make syrup in his backyard from a handful of huge sugar maples on his property. It was always amazing in color and taste and reflected the talent that he had. One year, about ten years ago, we were in his basement and he pointed to a jar of beautiful syrup on a shelf. It was some of the best looking syrup you could imagine. He said look at the date. It was from the early 1960’s. He said it was the last batch of syrup he had made in his large sugarhouse and there it was, some 40 plus years later, still pristine, still something that many sugarmakers will never achieve in their day to day operations using all of today’s modern technology. He was both a technician and a craftsman and his balance of organization, determination and studiousness never left him even as his body began to fail.
He never saw our sugarhouse, short of pictures as we lived too far apart, but from those, he could quickly grasp what we were doing and ask incredibly detailed questions. Although we use some technology that was not available in his time, he said that our setup resembled his in many ways. I certainly like to think so and hope in some manner we begin to approach the level of craftsmanship he achieved.
It’s impossible to do justice to what a special man he was and all that he meant to our family. Just know that we are fortunate in our family to have had many wonderful role models in our family to look up to. One of them was Mr. Ernest Batchelder, Chief Engineer, maple sugarmaker and the one of finest grandfather and great grandfathers one could ever have.
Thank you for reading,