Spring Came Up the Third Line

maple girl

One of my friends from DeWitt’s Corners said that they’d seen a robin in their back yard, but I hadn’t seen one yet. The only sign of spring that I’d noticed was the steady drip of water, coming off of the old roof, in the late afternoons, when I returned home from Glen Tay School. That meant that the temperature was rising above freezing during the day, so the sap must be running again.

Sure enough, that same day, I saw Dad heading down the lane, toward the Third Line, and he had his carpenter’s auger in his hands. That old thing looked battered and ancient, but it sure did the trick when he needed to tap some trees. We didn’t have a big maple bush like Korry’s, across the road, but Dad always tapped a few trees along the laneway, so that we’d have enough syrup for the family.

carpenter's auger   spile

If anyone had bothered to stroll past the trees that we’d tapped, they likely would have laughed themselves silly. It wasn’t exactly a professional operation. None of the buckets matched. We had a grey metal pail, that hung on one of the spiles by a rusty wire. We also had a white plastic bucket, that Mother had made, by cutting up an empty corn syrup jug.  Another bucket was made from an empty Billy Bee honey container. We even used one of my old sand pails, that I’d played with on the beach, when we went to Silver Lake in the summer. Any available container was ‘fair game’. It was only for a few weeks after all, and they couldn’t afford to be spending money on something that was used for such a short period of time each year.

Looking back, it didn’t really matter what kind of buckets you used, as long as you had something to collect the sap. I used to stand at the side of the tree, and watch as the clear, sweet liquid dripped ever so slowly, drip, drip, and splashed into the bucket below. I’d lift the bucket off of the metal hook, and dump the sap into Mother’s biggest mixing bowl, hook the bucket back on the tree, and carry the bowl gingerly up the lane way, and into the kitchen. Mother would be ready with a piece of clean cheesecloth, stretched over the big aluminum pot on the stove, and she’d take the bowl of sap, and dump it into the pot. The cheesecloth would catch all of the little specks of dirt, or bits of wood, that had come from the tree, so that the sap in the pot was nice and clean.

I guess if I’d been a little older, and a lot smarter, I would have asked Dad for one of the big pails from the garage, to transport all of the sap, in one trip, into the kitchen. Instead, I emptied one bucket at a time, into the big mixing bowl, and trekked all the way back and forth, up to the kitchen. Up the lane, and down the lane, I went over and over again, until I was finished; usually just before supper time. One night I forgot to empty the buckets, and the next night the sap was overflowing, running down the side of the tree, onto the snow. No one said anything about it, but I felt bad because I hadn’t done my job, and worse still we’d have less syrup because of it.

The air in the old kitchen smelled sweet for those few weeks each year, as the sap boiled away on top of the stove. Usually by the third or fourth day we’d have enough for a little bowl of syrup for dessert. The first syrup of the year was always the lightest in colour and in flavour, perfect for eating straight out of the bowl. Dad liked to pour a little cream into his syrup, and give it a stir. He’d take a piece of day-old homemade bread and dip it into his creamy syrup mixture, until he was down to the last sweet drops, and then he’d do one last sweep of the bowl with his bread.

maple syrup jug
The other kids in the family poured their syrup over vanilla ice cream, but I liked mine straight-up, with nothing getting in between me and that sweet, perfect, maple flavour. I’d take a melamine bowl and teaspoon out of the old sideboard, pour myself a little, and enjoy it just like that.

As the weeks passed by, the syrup became darker in colour, and the flavour grew richer, and more intense. It was like magic watching the syrup change from a light honey colour to the rich, dark, amber toward the end of the run. The sap dripped slower and slower from the trees, as the days grew longer and warmer. When I waited for the big orange school bus to chug up the Third Line, it wasn’t as dark outside, nor as cold, in the early mornings,

The sun was shining a little brighter each week, and our driveway became a soggy obstacle course, as we stepped around the growing puddles of water. The snow banks finally shrunk, and shriveled away. Soon after, we’d take the buckets down, and put them away in the back porch for another year. Dad removed the spiles from the maple trees, wrapped them in a soft cloth, and placed them in the top drawer of his tool chest in the garage.

By then, the maple trees were beginning to bud, and a few of the familiar spring birds were returning to Mother’s bird feeder, in the back orchard. Almost all of the snow had shrunk down to a few dirty white mounds, spaced here and there in the yard, and the ground was spongy, cold and brown. The sun grew a little brighter each day, and stayed up in the sky later and later, after supper each night.

robin in snow

Spring wasn’t here yet, not even close; but all the signs were there that it was just around the corner. Each year when we tapped those maple trees, I knew that Spring was not far away. It was only a matter of time now that she’d be coming up the Third Line, with all of her delicate shades of green. She’d be bringing her warm sun, and her gentle breezes. She’d slip into our yard quietly one morning, and tell all of the flowers to wake up, and show their colours. She’d whisper to the squirrels and the chipmunks, and invite them to come back and play in our yard.

black squirrel

I often wondered if Spring could see us tapping our trees, and if that was her signal to make her way back into Lanark County, and into our yard. Maybe there was something magical about the syrup, and once we’d had our first taste, Old Man Winter knew that it was time for him to pack up his snow, and his cold winds, and head up north. Either way, we always knew that as soon as the sap began to run we’d be seeing Spring in all of her glory in no time at all!

spring buds

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

January Feast at Mother’s Birdfeeder

Blue Jay

There was nothing fancy about the rickety old wooden bird feeder in the orchard behind the house. Our father was not going to win any awards for his design, that’s for sure. The bird feeder was constructed of five short pieces of wood, cut from an old weathered plank, and consisted of a floor, a roof, and three side walls. The pieces were nailed together, and mounted on a two by four, hammered into the ground, about twenty feet from the back kitchen window.

It was Mother who requested that the feeder be built one winter. It had been a brutally cold January, and snowy too. The winds from the north seemed particularly harsh that year, and it had been weeks since I’d ventured up the Third Line to visit my friends at DeWitt’s Corners. I’d been outside a few times helping with the shoveling, and even slid down our neighbour Chris Perkins’ hill on my toboggan a couple of times, but it was just too cold to stay outside for very long.

Because of the heavy snow and frigid temperatures, Mother had been very concerned that the birds wouldn’t be able to find food and would perish. Once Dad had finished putting up the bird feeder, Mother went to straight to work preparing something she thought would be hearty and filling for her feathered friends.

She brought out the heavy, well-worn, cast iron frying pan from under the sink, went straight to the old refrigerator, and picked up her bowl of bacon drippings. Every time Mother cooked bacon she poured the leftover drippings into a melamine bowl, and stored it in the fridge. She used the drippings to add flavour whenever she fried eggs, and for frying onions to have as a side dish with supper.

bacon-drippings

While the bacon drippings were heating up in the pan, Mother brought out a heavy plastic bag where she stored old crusts of bread, and she began to break them into crumbs. She rubbed them against the palm of her hand over a mixing bowl, until they were in fine pieces, like the crumbs for Christmas stuffing. Next, she brought the bowl of crumbs over to the frying pan and poured them in, a bit at a time, and stirred them with a wooden spoon, until they were coated in bacon drippings.

cast-iron-pan

She scraped the crumbs back into the mixing bowl, and set it on the kitchen table to cool, while she put on her boots and coat. She grabbed the bowl and headed out the door into the back porch, and out to the new feeder in the orchard. Dad might not have built a fancy-looking feeder, but he had placed it at just the right height so that Mother could easily lay her bacon-coated crumbs inside.

Mother came back in the kitchen, took off her coat and boots, and we waited patiently by the window. I pushed back the curtain, and pulled up a couple of kitchen chairs so we could watch. By this time Dad had put away his tools, had come in from the garage, and was making himself a cup of coffee. He warned me not to make any sudden movements in front of the window, or I would scare the birds away, so I sat there quietly and we waited.

Less than fifteen minutes passed when we saw our first ‘customer’. We were all excited, and even Dad, who hadn’t seemed particularly interested at first, was over by the window to watch the show. The first bird at the feeder was a blue jay. He had a little blue ‘hat’ and wings, and a big round white belly. There was a blue and white pattern on his back and he had a lovely, long tail with many different shades of blue all the way to the tip. His eyes and his beak were shiny and black, and he pecked away eagerly at the crumbs in the feeder for several minutes.

blue-jay-1 blue-jay-2

He continued to peck at the crumbs, looked around nervously, pecked again and then looked straight at us with his big black eyes as if to say ‘thank-you’, then he flew away through the orchard and over the back field, heading toward the train tracks.

blue-jay-3

 

The bird feeder was a success! Dad was smiling, knowing that his efforts had been worthwhile. Mother was pleased that her very first ‘customer’ had enjoyed his meal, and hopefully would bring his friends back to dine as well, and keep in good health during the cold spell.

snowstorm bluejays

Mother’s birdfeeder would remain in the old orchard for many decades. The construction was basic, the feed was always the same – bacon grease and breadcrumbs, and over the years thousands of birds would dine at the feeder while we watched from the kitchen window. Blue Jays were always her favourites, although I saw a few handsome red Cardinals and many Black-Capped Chickadees over the years as well.

chickadee   winter-bird-cardinal

On these harsh, frigid, January days, when the winds are relentless, and the snow piles up around us, I think of our small feathered friends back on the Third Line. I wonder if the old feeder is still standing in the orchard, and if anyone thinks to put out a few crumbs and some drippings for our beautiful, hungry, winter birds. In the stark, white landscape they provided a welcome splash of colour, and their songs gave us hope through the long, silent winter.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com

……………

 

 

 

 

“January Feast at Mother’s Bird Feeder”

is an excerpt from  “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line”

l-c-calendar

 

January Blues – Feeling Stuffed Like a Turkey?

 

 

Christmas had come and gone for another year, and by early January we were back in our classrooms at Glen Tay Public School. Frigid, gray mornings were spent shivering at the end of the long lane, waiting for the big orange school bus to come rattling up the Third Line.

school-bus

Even though the winter solstice had passed, the days in Lanark County were still short and dark for the most part. The cold months that were still to come stretched out ahead of us like the long, heavy, trains that thundered and chugged down the tracks, back the side road, near the Fourth Line.

This way to the duck pond0001

Winter in the country sometimes looked barren and lifeless. The soft green grass and fragrant flowers were almost forgotten, as they lay dormant under the heavy blanket of snow. The massive, frozen, white shroud seemed to conceal every trace of life that had ever existed in our yard.

winter-yard

Evenings after school were spent shoveling, pushing, and lifting the snow, from one pile to another. Week after week more snow fell, and it blew and drifted back into the paths that we’d made.

snow-drifting

I was always cold, always shivering, cold face, cold hands, cold feet on the floors of the old house. Even with layers of tattered, wool blankets on the bed, the icy drafts snuck into my room, and the windows were coated in a heavy layer of frost. The wood stove in the kitchen eventually died out over night, and my glass of water on the bed-side table was frozen like a miniature hockey rink by morning.

winter-bed

The turkey sandwiches, so delicious on Boxing Day, began to lose their luster, as the first few days of the new month found us eating the leftovers from the enormous Christmas bird. Turkey soup. Turkey pot pie. Turkey casserole. Would it ever end? Endless stacks of sliced turkey were stored in the old chest freezer for those daily turkey sandwiches, dressed with mustard, salt and pepper, staring up at me from my lunch pail at school.

turkey-leftovers

One morning that same January, before heading off to work, at Chaplin’s Dairy in Glen Tay, Dad requested, ever so politely, that we have eggs for supper that evening. Eggs were one of Dad’s favourite meals, any time of day. He liked them fried, over easy, boiled, scrambled, any way at all, and that was his request for supper. My fingers were crossed that Mother would comply and take a break from her relentless production of turkey leftovers.

fingers-crossed

What a treat it would be to have a nice, light supper after so many heavy meals, rich baked goods, and endless servings of turkey! After Dad left that morning, Mother decided that she would indeed make fried eggs and pancakes for supper, so she began to assemble her ingredients. Hopefully she had everything she needed, or one of us would be making a long, cold trek down to Cavanagh’s store in DeWitt’s Corners.

cavanaghs-store-black-and-white-without-garage

Mother began her preparations on the old kitchen table. I breathed a sigh of relief, welcoming a change from the endless turkey leftovers. On that cold winter’s evening, so long ago, when Dad returned from work, we had the very best cure for a January Turkey Hangover.

……

pancakes

Audry Stafford’s  Farm-style Buttermilk Pancakes

3 cups all purpose flour

3 Tablespoons sugar

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

¾ teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of cinnamon

3 cups buttermilk

½ cup milk

3 eggs   (Mother always used large eggs)

1/3 cup melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

Our Mother, being a prize-winning baker at the Perth Fair, had a few good tricks for making her pancakes light and fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

First, let your buttermilk, milk and eggs sit out for a full hour before making the pancakes. By allowing them to reach room temperature the pancakes will rise higher and fluffier.

Use real butter, don’t substitute with margarine, or the flavour will not be as good.

Make sure that your baking powder is fresh to give as much lift and height possible to the pancakes.

Use real buttermilk. If it’s not possible to use real buttermilk, you can sour some regular milk by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to each cup of milk. The recipe will still work, but the flavour will not be nearly as rich as using real buttermilk. We always had a quart of buttermilk in the fridge because Dad liked to have a small glass at night before bedtime. Buttermilk is low in fat and very high in protein.

In case you don’t know, buttermilk is the fluid remaining when the fat is removed when cream is churned in to butter. When I was a kid, farmers separated the milk from the cream on the farm, and shipped cans of cream to cheese factories once or twice a week. The cream would be used to make cheese and butter. Today, cultured buttermilk is produced by adding lactic acid to pasteurized whole milk and adding a touch of salt.

Don’t forget – Mother always warned us not to stir the pancake batter too much. Over-stirring will cause the pancakes to be flat, not fluffy. Just stir ever so slightly, don’t worry about the lumps of flour, just combine the wet and dry ingredients together gently with a wooden spoon or spatula; don’t over-mix.

Method:

Use a large bowl and combine your flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.

In another large bowl, combine your eggs, buttermilk, milk, melted butter and vanilla.

The wet and dry ingredients should be kept separate until you are ready to make the pancakes.

Next, heat a lightly oiled frying pan at medium-high heat. To test the temperature you can add a drop of water to the center of the pan, and it should bead up and sizzle.

When the pan is ready, you can mix the wet and dry ingredients. Remember, just mix very lightly, and don’t worry about the lumps. Never over-stir. This is very important.

Scoop up the batter with a ladle and use about half a cup for each pancake. When one side is golden, flip it over with a spatula and cook the other side. Add more oil to the pan as required.

This recipe will make a dozen 5-inch pancakes.

If you have any leftover pancakes, you can let them cool, place waxed paper between them and freeze.

Top the finished pancakes with salted butter and some Lanark County Maple syrup. For a fancy look you can sift a bit of icing sugar on top.

lanark-county-maple-syrup    maple-syrup

If you’re having eggs with your pancakes, like we did, fry them up in a little bacon grease for added flavour. Mother always poured her leftover bacon drippings into a small container and kept it in the fridge. Use it for frying eggs, onions, and home-fries, and make an old fashioned country-style meal.

So cure your January Turkey Hangover, enjoy some fluffy Buttermilk Pancakes, and have a Happy New Year!

…..

Note:   To discover   “10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup”, and for a listing of the top maple syrup producers in Lanark County:  10 Things You May Not Know About Maple Syrup

…..

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Late June in Lanark County and the First Cutting of the Hay

Korry's farm

By  late June each year, the hay was tall enough for the first cut of the season. When early summer is upon us, I’m reminded of the sweet, green scents of the fresh cut hay lying in the fields.

boy in hayfield

By this time in June, the delicate pale shades of spring had come into their full summer greens.

old fashioned tractor

The heat bugs, crickets, and bullfrogs sang their songs back in the lowlands, behind the old house.

kids at the creek

The hot sun warmed our bones, and the long, hazy days were rich with humidity.

country flowers

boy moving hay

Days were always busy this time of year, and local farmers hauled their wagons, and chugged up and down the Third Line, like a great hay parade passing by.

holsteins in field

We were often tempted to stop by the local general store for an icy cold bottle of pop, or maybe buy a popsicle and split it with a friend.  Owners, Jim and Helen Cavanagh were always there to greet us with a kind smile, and have a chat about the local news around DeWitt’s Corners.

Cavanaghs store for book

Sometimes it was so hot by late June that even Shep, Cavanagh’s dog, would curl up beside the millstone outside the store, and take a break from the heat.

Shep with the Millstone

The unmistakable fragrance of the newly-cut-hay was all around us.   For anyone who has ever lived in farm country, it’s a fresh, green scent that could be bottled-up as perfume, and called ‘Summer’.

farm tractor

It was always nice at the end of a long, hot day to cool off in the Tay River, at Carl Adams’ swimming hole.

Carl Adams

kids in the water

Just a quick ride on our bikes, and we’d be there in no time at all, jumping in, splashing each other, laughing, cooling off after a long, hot day in the Lanark County sunshine.

old bike 2

Or sometimes, we’d ride our bikes up the Third Line and jump off of Jordan’s bridge, into the cool waters of Christie Lake.

fred and ethel0001_4

Now that summer is officially here, it’s nice to remember the sights, smells and sounds of the farm country, and how the longest days of the year seemed to go on forever……………

country lane

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Photo:  Korry’s farm –  farmed by Andrew, Ethel Korry and  their son George and his wife Merle.
Photo: Cavanagh’s store and their dog Shep – JoAnne Cavanagh Butler

 

http://www.staffordwilson.com