Saturday, March 27, 2021

Robust taste

This morning I enjoyed pancakes with maple syrup – pure maple syrup bought recently at a local store. I had chosen "Dark, Robust Taste" from among the options offered for sale. I didn't see anything labeled "Grade B" – my previous favorite. All the options were marked "U.S. Grade A" but with various words added to describe the color and/or taste of the syrup. Aha! That reminded me that the standard grading system had been changed some years ago. Oops. My habit of seeking "Grade B" was out-dated and no longer helpful.

I do applaud the new system. I've always considered the darker syrup tastier. And I'd heard about the history. In colonial days, when white sugar was hard to obtain, the locally produced maple-based sugar could be a substitute. But a strongly-flavored product would not have been so highly valued as a "fancy" version with less of that maple taste. 

In my opinion the old grades were upside down: A for less taste; B for more of that delicious maple-ness.

The new labeling system, which began to be implemented in 2014, is an improvement.  Here's an explanation of the changes:

"How to Make Sense of the New Maple Syrup Grades" 

For history of maple sugaring in Massachusetts, visit this website:

Every spring I recall the maple syrup my mother produced and the labor that went into it. As a child I helped collect the sap.  We didn't sell the product, and didn't grade it. It was just maple syrup, a much-loved treat. For more about my mother's syrup-making, please read my March 2008 blog entry and article:  Making Maple Syrup.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Name tags

This winter I've been enjoying frequent opportunities for cross-country skiing. Fresh snow invites the idea of skiing along, rather than walking along, with our dog for the usual morning outings. We head for local areas where Sparky can run off-leash while we glide on skis. Good exercise for all!

I typically wear a pair of old wool socks – comfortable ones that have served me well in the past. I pulled them from an attic trunk where they have been stored for years with miscellaneous mittens, scarves, hats and other winter gear. Memories of past camping trips and ski trips sometimes come to mind as I rummage through this collection to select a familiar pair of socks.

A different memory struck me this time: name tags!  Do you remember name tags of cloth? Did your mother sew name tags onto your clothing? Mine certainly did. And I carried on the tradition, ordering fabric name tags for myself and my children and sewing those little strips onto many, many articles of clothing that might otherwise get lost at school or camp.

I wasn't surprised to feel a name tag inside the cuff of my sock. I WAS surprised, however, to see the name on the tag: Sandra M. Nichols. I haven't used that name since I married Peter Ward in June 1965. So these comfortable old socks have been around a long, long time – outlasting that eleven-year marriage. 

I recently bought a new wool hat and a new winter jacket. When I thought of labelling them, and looked into my sewing box to see if I still had any of my "Sandra N. Ward" name tags, I discovered that only a single tag remained. Maybe I should re-order?  

[Update, March 14: I did find options for ordering woven names tags, as well as iron-on or other styles. I chose woven, and chose a shorter version of my name this time: Sandy Ward.  They have arrived, and I've now sewn two of them onto new clothing. The tradition continues!] 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pine Knoll ca.1917


For better quality image, see note marked * below.

This copy of an old photo of Pine Knoll was sent to me with a Christmas card years ago (1998?). I just re-discovered it this week as I thumbed through old photo albums looking for something else. 

With it came a typewritten document of 4 pages, with several handwritten notes at the bottom of page 4:

"Christmas Greetings from Florence and Jack Lord" 

"Picture probably taken by Charlie Osgood in 1917 of Florence learning to ride Aunt Oda's English bicycle on the western Avenue."

"Earl and Betty Clay assisted with copying and mailing logistics."

I assume this mailing was sent to many other Nichols relatives. I will make inquiries and see if I can learn more. I do recognize all the names in these notes, and know, sadly, that none are still living today. I wish I'd paid more attention at that time to family history and stories. 

The document, written by "M. E. Nichols  January 4, 1948," is not related to this photograph, but tells much about the early history of this home, which we called "Pine Knoll," and the trees and other plants  included in the landscaping. Andrew Nichols created this homestead in 1861. M.E. Nichols is Mary Eliot Nichols, his daughter, whom I knew as my great aunt, "Aunt May."

The address of this home was 98 Preston Street, Danvers. This view is from the Preston Street side. Beyond the house was a knoll of pine trees, and beyond that, the Newburyport Turnpike. This homestead was said to be near the halfway point between Boston and Newburyport.

 * For better quality image, and family photos of that era, visit: