Could New England’s mud season be the sweetest season of all?
If we’re talking maple syrup – that super sweet sap we take from trees and boil down to magic – it is.
Discovering the maple syrup process and products across the region can make for delightful day or weekend trips. Part of the charm: visiting quaint towns along the way.
“One of the nice things about us,” said Dave Fuller, owner of Fuller’s Sugar House (www.fullerssugarhouse.com) in Lancaster and a long-time member of the New Hampshire Maple Producer’s Association, “is that we are truly accessible. If you see steam coming out of a sugarhouse, stop in.”
Maple harvesters as a whole, he said, love to share their art and craft. And coming out of the long winter, he said, it’s a welcome event.
“Really, maple syrup is the first crop of the season,” he said. “Some people milk cows. We milk trees.”
New England states rank high in maple product production, with New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts all busy with sap running and product production at a high point now.
The best spots for maple products tend to be – obviously – where the maple trees are thick, said Winston Pitcoff, coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association.
“Maple syrup can only be made where there are maple trees, and preferably in large concentrations,” he explained. “It takes a lot of sap (40-plus gallons) to make a gallon of syrup, so for efficiency’s sake maple producers gravitate toward where there are lots of maple trees.”
The soil and climate of western Massachusetts is most suitable for sugar maples to thrive, he said, so you’ll find the most maple producing spots there (although there are some in eastern Massachusetts as well). You can find a list of spots to visit at www.massmaple.org/buy-maple-syrup/directory/
The season started early this year – no surprise with the warmer weather – but the good news is that it’s not ending early. Said Pitcoff, “March is shaping up to be perfect weather for the sap to keep running. We never know how good it will be until it’s all done, but so far it has been great and it’s showing no sign of wrapping up any time soon.”
In New Hampshire, Fuller said, the season is right on track, with maple flowing now.
Maple flavoring, he said, can be directly linked – as is the case with wine – to soil. The predominately granite New Hampshire soil helps create a particularly sweet crop, he said.
“There are lots of subtle differences in flavor out there,” he said. And finding sugar houses actually in production should be easy: Fuller said they tend to work 20 hours a day this time of year; 16 prepping and about four actually making the syrup each day.
Vermont is a maple star as well, so much so that the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association (vermontmaple.org; founded in 1893) names an annual ambassador from one of their many sugar houses.
You can find sugar houses and events across Vermont, including two big open houses across the state happening March 25-26 and April 1-2, where you’ll find everything from lessons in tapping to pancake breakfasts at spots deep in the Vermont woods (https://vermontmaple.org/mohw).
A Vermont maple season must is savoring a Creemee, a unique ice-cream like treat made from Vermont maple.
Back in the Bay State, Pitcoff said, maple enthusiasts can find all kinds of set ups and unique products to take home.
“We have members ranging from hobbyists with just a few trees, to commercial producers with 10,000+ taps,” He said.
You can find special glass bottles at Ferrindino Maple in Hampden (https://ferrindino.com/), or savor a full maple themed meal at the sugarhouse restaurant at Hollis Hills farm in Fitchburg (https://www.hollishillsfarm.com/).
For a unique twist, check out the infused syrup at Quissett Hill Farm in Mendon (quissetthillfarm.com/), or maple coated nuts and maple BBQ sauce at Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock (www.iokavalleyfarm.com/).
And to savor the sweet while learning about saving the earth, check out the sustainable production practices at Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington (www.justameretreefarm.com/).
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