The Fradette sugaring operation began in Vermont in 1960 after the immigration of Arsene and Denise Fradette and their first five children from Plessiville, Quebec. to East Hardwick, Vt. The sugarhouse on the farm they bought had burned before they arrived in Vermont. For their first season, the family cleaned up and moved an old pig shed from behind the barn down on the bank of the Lamoille River to serve as their sugarhouse. A secondhand wood fired arch was purchased to do the boiling. Unfortunately, the season was cut short due to a flood that took out the shed.
Originally, Arsene and his family tapped approximately 3000 trees spread over 30 acres, all with buckets. Tapping typically began on Town Meeting Day (first Tuesday of March). Sap was collected manually with buckets by the couple and their children. The family’s two workhorses, Ben and Kate, pulled a gathering tank on gliders through the snow, and in the absence of snow, on a rubber-wheeled wagon. Ben and Kate would advance with a whistle and stop when someone yelled, “Whoa,” allowing everyone to be out in the sugarbush gathering instead of needing someone to drive the horses. Once collected, Ben and Kate dragged their load to the hill behind the sugarhouse. Gravity was used to empty the tank so the sap could be boiled.
In the summer of 1960, the first Fradette sugarhouse was built just beyond the railroad tracks near the sugarbush in East Hardwick above the family’s farm. It was a wood-fueled operation, although occasionally tires were burned to keep the fires burning hot. Wood was added on one side at a time to prevent too much heat loss from the fire every 3 to 5 minutes.
A second sugarhouse was built in 1980 on the edge of the hay & corn field and Lamoille River behind the farmhouse. It was a necessary move, as the Fradette’s could not bring much needed power to the original sugarhouse. It was also becoming necessary to switch from wood to oil for fuel as more and more of the family’s eight children were growing up and moving away. One of its best features was the flowing Lamoille River just outside its back door. The equipment from the original sugarhouse was moved to the new one and placed over the new brick work Arsene’s third child, Mario, had installed to convert from wood to oil. Being geographically below the sugarbush, the powers of gravity were called upon again as pipeline was introduced as a gathering technique in tandem with the buckets already used. A pump was also used to aid in the collection process.
Arsene and his family had no hydrometer to check for doneness. Instead, they looked for signs such as big bubbles, a “volcano” effect, and syrup that aproned like fudge on the end of the scoop; when the syrup formed a solid drip straight across the scoop, it was done. Once the syrup was done, it was drawn off through “woolies” to be filtered before it was canned and sold. The woolsacks would filter out the natural sand contained in the syrup, “the finest sand in the world,” known as niter. Though it was quite a sticky job, the woolies were cleaned and reused repeatedly.
In 1984, Mario, and his wife Mary Jane, purchased the sugaring operation. Despite the turnover, Arsene and Denise stayed very active in the sugaring process, aiding their son and his family.
Over the years, Mario and Mary Jane have continued to upgrade the operation. By 1991, Mario had built a third sugarhouse, the current log cabin just below the railroad tracks and once again back up at the edge of the sugar bush. Buckets were replaced completely by pipeline. A few trees in front of the sugarhouse are tapped with buckets for old time’s sake. With pipeline and a vacuum system tapping begins around Valentines day and the season can end anytime between then and the end of April. Mario & Mary Jane currently have approximately 3900 taps in their 30-acre sugarbush. Their boiling system incorporates a pre-heater and aluminum cover over the evaporator allowing preheating of the incoming sap and condensing of steam to hot water which is used for cleaning. The Waterloo oil fired arch measures 5’ by 13’. A hydrometer teams up with the old tricks of the trade in determining when the sap is syrup. In 2000, the “woolies” were replaced with a press filtration system to remove the niter before canning. In 2009 Mario & Mary Jane once again upgraded the operation by installing a reverse osmosis which cut the fuel consumption by approximately 60%.
The Fradette’s can their syrup for consumption in quantities as small as 50 ml wedding/party favor bottles and as large as a 40-gallon drums. Syrup is sold to the public in gallons, half-gallons, quarts, pints, ½ pints, 50 ml, 100 ml, 250 ml leaf shaped bottles with the balance sold in bulk. Annually Mary Jane makes over 50 lb’s of her favorite, Maple Cream. Visitors are always welcome and Mary Jane makes them all sugar on snow and often treats them with Maple Cinnamon Glazed Walnuts and homemade maple cookies with maple cream topping.
Tradition is important at Fradette’s sugarhouse. With three daughters, their husbands, and 9 grandchildren the future of sugaring looks bright and sweet.
Thank you from our family for visiting, sharing the tradition and supporting us.