Seasons at Our Table: Maple Sugar

Maple Sugar Season

At the beginning of Maple Sugar Season we invited our readers to share with us how Maple Sugar Season gets their family outdoors and participating in the harvest with their community. We also invited them to share their favorite recipe that they like to make for/with their family breakfast/brunch hour.

The feedback was warming and the recipes delicious and inspiring!  Here are recipes our Western MA friends and neighbors had to offer:

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When asked how the Maple Sugar Season gets their family outdoors and participating in the harvest with their community, our readers had much to share:

Stephanie Billings of Florence writes: “My children’s preschool takes a field trip to the Hadley Sugar Shack every sugar season. Joe gives a great tour to the kids and adults that includes science, maple facts and hands on demonstrations. It’s a great way to integrate nature, science, and local food awareness. During the sugar season we try different sugar shacks as a great way to explore the valley and experience spring.”

Beth Caissie of Greenfield writes: “I mark the end of winter by the first buckets and tubes I see attached to maple trees on the side of the road. I love to take my family for hikes during this (sometimes muddy, sometimes icy) time of year to look for hidden sugar bushes deep in the woods. The first time I found the tangle of plastic tubes running from tree to tree far from the road, I was exploring the Quabbin Reservoir. We also love to head to the sugar shacks for a meal this time of year, and stock up on syrup, which we do buy by the gallon.”

Rebecca Heath of Pittsfield writes: “We love maple sugaring season… as a family, including our 93 year old grandmother, we head to Ioka Valley Farm for their delicious farm fresh breakfast. Our favorite of course is the fresh boiled maple syrup but they also have the best maple butter…MMMM….this year my husband and four year old daughter tapped the trees on our land. It was amazing to watch her learn which one’s were maple trees by the bark they have. She helped use the hammer and hang the bucket and to her surprise sap started immediately flowing. We don’t have any fancy boiler so we boiled it outside and it took forever but the finished product we are so proud of. It is a great family memory that we will continue each year. So important for our children to learn about trees, animals, plants and our food. Each time we eat our pancakes with our own maple syrup I will think of those memories. It’s priceless.”

Kristy Dyer of Hatfield writes: “We love to try out new sugar shacks each year. Our daughter also has a dream of tapping maple trees herself and tried it out last year using a straw and a paper cup… we have to start somewhere!”

Chris Curtis of South Hadley writes: “Every March my family looks forward to the MapleFest on Skyline Trail in Chester. The highlight is the hayride to High Meadow Farm to see how maple syrup is made and a taste of the wonderful syrup! The pancake breakfast and farm animal exhibit is also great. This is a great New England tradition to get us out and welcome spring!”

Amy Cullen of Williamsburg writes: “When we lived in Plainfield we always gave the local sugar house permission to tap our trees along the road and my husband usually collected and boiled enough syrup to share with our family in the south. Now that we are in Williamsburg, we lent our buckets to our neighbor who has been boiling away on his front porch since the sap started running. My daughters preschool just finished a week of learning about syruping, drinking sap and making maple- ginger bread. When she complained about wanting it to be spring, I reminded her that it was maple season. She was totally satisfied- Hurray for Mud/Maple season!!!”

Christa Figueroa of Holyoke writes: “We made it a home school field trip and visited Zawalich’s Sugarhouse in Northampton with another home school family. Stan Zawalich was very kind and showed the kids all the equipment and explained how everything worked. He let them peek inside the sugar buckets attached to the trees too. We bought some yummy treats from his store like maple covered peanuts and maple lollipops. We took another field trip to Hanging Mountain Farms and their very own, very unique Strawbale Cafe. That’s right, it’s structure is made completely out of bales of straw. They have a peek-a-boo “window” where you can see the insides of the walls. They were sugaring the day we went and we got to go inside to see it all happening. They let the kids taste the pure sweet sap. After, we ate at the cafe. They had delicious hot maple milk with maple whipped cream, fresh blueberry pancakes with none other but their own maple syrup. They also had a little gift area to purchase some to take home. It was a great day! There’s nothing like it to kick off the start of spring!!!”

Mike Strong writes: “Living in Goshen, we have several sugar houses near us. My 5 year old loves to go and watch them boil and bottle, and my wife gets ideas from them to teach to her preschool class.”

Heather Rose writes: “Our family helps collect the sap from the trees. And watches it boil down into yummy syrup.”

Stacy Calabretta writes: “I’ve always loved maple season! Now, my 3 year old daughter is equally in love with it… we have tapped a few trees and will make a little syrup at home. We will take as many different trips to as many of our local sugar shacks as we can during the week and then all of us on the weekends. My partner and I will discuss which places had our favorite syrups and foods and our daughter will love seeing the boiling sap and tasting the different syrups. Yum!”

Sarah Schatz of Hatfield writes: “This is the first sugaring season my kids got to enjoy the actual process of tapping a tree. We had a great day at Red Gate Farm, where Ben showed us the steps in maple syruping. Of course an annual pilgrimage to a sugar shack is also necessary!”

Amy Mayer of Greenfield writes: “Our family is outdoors all year round, but maple sugaring is the prefect bridge between winter skiing, sledding and hiking and the glorious green of our spring activities–more hiking, biking, and eventually swimming, to name a few. We like to wander to a different sugar shack every year, from Hadley to Shelburne to Deerfield to, we hope, Ashfield this year. Also, maple syrup season revives us for fresh farm vegetables after a winter of eating from our root cellar. We get our produce from Riverland Farm just about year round, but this is the time when we can no longer store and we’re gobbling up what we can at the monthly winter market in Greenfield. We’ve finally figured out that we should eat breakfast FIRST and then head to a sugar house for a LUNCH of pancakes or waffles with fresh maple syrup. Makes the waiting much more pleasant as it cuts down on the family grumpiness.

Arianna Grindrod of Ashfield writes: “The Grindrod Family doesn’t have any sugar maples in our yard to tap – but we do have yellow birch! So the three of us head out each year and tap a yellow birch. We don’t make syrup – the sap never makes it that far. We just drink the sweet water down – a Spring elixir.”

Heather Fletcher writes: “Our family likes to have breakfast at Ioka Valley Farm. We feed the animals, mimic the sounds, sample syrup, & learn how it’s made.”

Colette Davis of Chicopee writes: “I am from New England, but my husband and little ones are proudly Midwestern. My children have never gone maple syrup harvesting before. I remember my parents and grandparents meeting up at the sugar shack just to smell the wood burning and enjoy a pancake with local syrup. Breakfast, from the harvest seems sweeter, like the first taste of a Flemish pancake coated with the deepest syrup you ever saw. — My husband did not realize that syrup was dark, having grown up on Vermont Maid and sorghum syrup. He is very excited to have the chance to partake in a piece of my childhood. — Coming from Massachusetts, it is not simply a reward to have this as part of our annual welcome it spring. It is an age old tradition, it is literally taking a step into the past with my family.”

Heather Polson of Northampton writes: “We aren’t originally from New England, so the magic behind this seasonal event always has us going to breakfast a few times over these precious weeks. The Sugar Barn at Norwich Lake Farm is where we always go – some all-you-can-eat places aren’t very tasty and other places are so darned busy. This place is always delicious, small enough to feel like you’re a true guest and the wait (if there is one) is minimal. After we order, the family wanders off to see the sap cooking and after we’re all good and full, we visit the animals outside.”

Sara Barry of Haydenville writes: “One of the things I love about going to sugar shacks is running into friends unexpectedly—and the conversations that crop up with the people you don’t know at the other end of your picnic table or waiting in the mapley steam with you. — I like talking to the owners to see what kind of year it is and learn more about the process. We get ideas about what other people are doing with sap and syrup (most intriguing is brewing beer but no word on the results). Maple season gets us out (early) into the melty, muddy parking lots, peering into buckets to show kids the drip, drip, drip of sap. It gets us out for a walk because you need to do something after all that sugar (I vote for walk, my husband votes for a nap). I usually suggest a walk at Chesterfield Gorge after a visit to High Hopes. It’s always icier, colder, and windier than I expect and we don’t get far, but we’ll keep trying. Once you’re up and out, it’s easier to stay there. — I love the idea of the sugarbush snowshoe at Red Gate Farm. I hadn’t really thought of other maple events until I saw them listed here. I’m always so focused on going to the sugar shacks, both our old favorites and the new ones we try and love every year.”

Kara Kitchen of Plainfield writes: “Whenever an out-of-state family member or friend comes to visit for the first time in Plainfield, their visit would not be complete without a Saturday or Sunday brunch at a local sugarshack! The experience is quintessential New England hospitality, food, and culture. What is old hat to our twin 9 year old boys, family-style dining at picnic tables on gravel floors and wood stove, brings a twinkle to our guest’s eye…not to mention the amazing homemade food, often including local meats, eggs+dairy, the never-ending stack of pancakes, a constant flow of fresh warm maple syrup, and chatting with neighbors, classmates, and the farmer down the road that keep us coming back every year and putting (sticky) smiles on every face that walks out the barn door!”

Wendy Somes of Goshen writes: “I truly love living in the Hilltowns but one thing I do miss from my former urban life is walking to restaurants. There is something about walking to a restaurant that makes dining out feel even more like an event. Whenever sugar season hits I tell myself that this year, we will walk the over 5 mile walk to South Face Farm. It is right down our road – if by road you mean rambling country miles of woods and farmland. — Have not done it yet but I hope we get to it. My son is 15 months so maybe not this year. But this will become a family tradition someday!”

Tony(a) Lemos of Ashfield writes: “For years my daughter and I have been wanting to tap trees and this has been the year! 15 trees tapped, days of boiling and small amounts of syrup to show! Its yummier when it is your own! To me sugar season is the hope that Spring has not forgotten us! Such local goodness!”

Tammy Westlake writes: “I remember as a child walking a long distance into the sugar bush with my grandfather. We would stand in a little sugar shack in the middle of the sugar bush and wait patiently by the fire as sugar water would turn into syrup – I couldn’t wait for the end result – pure maple heaven! So, when my hubby and I had kids of our own, I couldn’t wait to let them experience maple sugaring (of course, nowadays, sugaring has a few technological advances, but the process is ultimately the same). — We lived in Syracuse, NY when our two boys were young and we would take them (as soon as they could appreciate it) to sugar shacks and Maple Festivals. We then found ourselves in Dalton, MA a year and a half ago – low and behold, we ended up right near all the maple sugaring action! Coincidentally, my step-dad designs and builds automatic draw-off systems for maple production, so after moving to MA, I decided that I could help him with his business – after all, I practically live for sugaring season. This was the most fantastic thing for my family, as I find myself taking my family (my hubby and our two boys – ages 3 1/2 and 6) with me as we travel from sugar shack to sugar shack through the hilltowns. We talk with the farmers and my boys get a first hand look at how the process works. They’ve learned more about maple syrup production than most kids do and they’ve learned about agriculture and science along the way. We’re even thinking about tapping a few of our own trees to put to use what they’ve learned. — I find that assisting maple farmers with production was not just a business venture, but it was a family venture (just like most maple production is a family venture). My kids love going with me to the farms and they ask questions to learn more about it. We enjoy buying syrup from several local farmers and eating piles of pancakes at their restaurants/sugar shacks (I guess you could say it’s a “hazard” of the business! :). My 3 1/2 year old even sleeps with his tiny bottle of maple syrup – I’m not joking, either – it’s like a stuffed animal to him. :) There’s just something about maple syrup!”

Funding for Seasons at Our Table was made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Woman’s Home Missionary Union, administered by the Parent Education Workgroup of the Communities That Care Coalition.

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