NEW ENGLAND MAPLE SUGARING SEASON
As winter ends and spring begins, New England enjoys its sweetest — and shortest — season: the maple sugaring season, when maple syrup is made. A bottle of this liquid gold is the best souvenir ever. When you are home, pouring genuine maple syrup over pancakes or waffles is a perfect reminder of a trip to New England!
New England’s maple syrup production in 2012 totaled over 1.24 million gallons. From late February through early April, New England farmers are out in the woods with their buckets, miles of plastic tubing and special drills to “tap” maple trees for their sap. This “sugaring” is often visible from the road. What looks like smoke rising from the woods is actually sweet-scented steam rising from decades-old wooden shacks, or sugarhouses, where sap is boiled down for hours. It takes up to 40 gallons of sap from a tree to make just one gallon of the highly-prized syrup. See the sugaring process and taste “sugar on snow,” hot, thick syrup dribbled onto the snow to make instant maple taffy.
But even if you miss this annual rite of spring, some sugarhouses and farms stay open all year. Visit Dakin Farms, just south of Burlington, Vermont, to taste free samples and tour a maple sugar cannery, or visit the New England Maple Museum on Route 7 in Pittsford, Vermont.
VERMONT: THE MAPLE SUGAR CAPITAL
Producing 750,000 gallons of syrup last year, Vermont is the USA’s biggest producer of maple syrup – generating over 40 percent of the country’s maple syrup. No wonder there are maple festivals galore. One of the best times to visit active sugarhouses is over the annual Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, when some 80 farms welcome the public and explain the mysteries of the maple sugar process (see video). For fun and food, music and maple syrup, head for St. Albans where the Vermont Maple Festival takes place in April.
New Hampshire produced 76,000 gallons of maple syrup last year between mid-February and mid-April. To celebrate this annual harvest, some 60 sugarhouses stage special events on the annual New Hampshire Maple Weekend: pancake breakfasts, horse-drawn rides, sap collecting with oxen, and tours of maple orchards. Learn all about the maple sugaring process — and have fun at the same time!
In Maine, the fourth Sunday in March is always Maine Maple Sunday, when producers open their sugarhouses, with free tastings and demonstrations of how syrup is made. Other treats include sugar bush tours, plus sleigh and wagon rides. Maine’s Sunday River ski resort now has its own maple sugaring operation and a sugarhouse on site that you can visit for tours and demonstrations, as well as free candy and syrup samples to finish off a day of spring skiing! Maine produced 360,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2012.
Massachusetts Maple Month runs right through March, when maple dinners and maple-related dishes are served in restaurants across the state. And, you can often buy the syrup in restaurants, as well as getting information on local sugarhouses.
South Face Farm, located in the peaceful foothills of the Berkshires mountains, has a restaurant adjacent to its sugarhouse. Watch maple syrup being made and then step next door to taste it for yourself on hot blueberry pancakes.
In Rhode Island, spring is welcomed with Maple Weekends. Find out how to collect sap from maple trees using wooden troughs and spiles (spouts) at the Coggeshall Farm Museum in Bristol. Tour the barnyard and sample the finished product. Get the Narragansett Tribe perspective on sugaring at Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in Exeter: participate in the maple sugar ceremony, listen to flute music and traditional drumming, and see how syrup is cooked down. At Chepachet Farms, when the weather is right, the staff gathers up to 500 gallons of sap daily in season and offers free samples on days they are boiling syrup at their sugarhouse.
The maple sugaring season in Connecticut usually runs from early February until late March. There are 30 or so sugar houses, but call ahead before visiting. In the northeast of the state, west of Pomfret, tradition is everything at River’s Edge Sugar House. Near Burlington, west of Hartford, Lamothe’s Farm and Country Gift Shop sells their own syrup and candy year round. The beautiful Litchfield Hills are dotted with sugar houses, such as the Flanders Nature Center, while the McLaughlin Vineyards, near Danbury, also make maple syrup, sold in their country store. In early March, don’t miss the Hebron Maple Festival: Buy maple treats to take home!