Big Head Fred’s Offers More than Just Maple Syrup
LUNENBURG -- Within the cramped confines of his sugar house, a boyish grin spreads across the face of Fred Lake when discussing his history with making maple syrup.
A bit more than a hobby now, Lake is a veteran of the maple syrup and sugar world, turning out goods through the moniker “Big Head Fred’s Maple Syrup.” A Vermont native, he’s processed sap for years, first as a job and later as a passion.
“I used to put out 14,000 buckets and lids with a team of Clydesdales on the farm of Bill Fairchild, a fourth-generation sugar-maker in Vermont,” said Lake, who is a patrol officer and community engagement officer with the Fitchburg Police Department. “When I decided to do this, I had 50 buckets from him and I had just started doing it with a turkey fryer. And my wife came out and pushed for me to expand it a little bit.
“I built a brand new sugar house and the kids, my wife, they’ve all helped. I’m up to about 1,200 taps and we’ve got around 400 buckets out.”
The sugar house is home to an intricate evaporator system, which pulls water from sap in a process that creates the syrup. Fire temperatures are monitored and water input and output levels receive constant attention from Lake and his crew, including his wife, Janis Peterson.
“It’s my wife and I and a few friends, for the most part,” Lake said. “The kids aren’t too excited about it, but we still drag them out to learn the things we’re doing.”
On Sunday, that crew attentively worked on a boil while allowing guests in to check out the process and sample the syrup that resulted.
“It’s pretty time consuming,” Lake said. “There a lot of moving parts and you’re constantly watching; things can burn pretty quickly.”
Making sure his syrup production line runs smoothly is an all-day affair. And it’s far from a one-man show; Lake’s workshop takes something of a small village to run.
“We incorporate any of our friends who are willing to help and just do the best we can,” Peterson said. “People seem to be very receptive and enjoy what we’re doing.”
Big Head Fred’s sells jugs of maple syrup and maple pancake mixes, as well as sweet treats like maple sugar candies and maple kettle corn. The shack has recently rolled out maple roasted peanuts, which Peterson says were an experiment with a very pleasant result.
“I made a batch of them and a pound was gone before I knew it,” she said. “I made more and two pounds disappeared. At that point I said to myself, ‘Maybe I’m on to something here.’”
And the name? It came courtesy of Lake’s fellow police officers, who pushed for it when he began putting out products for farmers markets. While Peterson says she was onboard with it from the start, Lake needed a little time to mull it over.
“When I finally accepted it, we got together with a graphic designer in Turners Falls and to give the guys credit for coming up with it, we put the picture of me standing in a silhouette of our badge,” Lake said. “And my wife’s a bit of a comedian, so she’s got us in the red and black flannel, being from Vermont. On the back of our bottles, there’s the Clydesdales with the sled.
“Everything has a meaning. There’s a lot of thought that went into the label and how I put it together.”
“That name sticks and people remember it,” Peterson added. “Especially after they meet him.”
And though both Lake and Peterson have time-consuming jobs, the idea of backing off the syrup-making has never come up.
“We’re out here making syrup whenever we can,” Lake said. “I’ve done it for a lot of my life, and doing it here is a lot of work, but it’s something I really enjoy.”