Hilltown Families


In late winter when the days are warm but the nights are still cold, the sap starts to run in sugar maples. Throughout New England, buckets and tubing begin to adorn trees, and the steady plinking of sap dripping into buckets can be heard throughout the sugarbush. This month’s literature guide spotlights titles that can be used to learn about sugaring – both the science behind it and the role that it plays in rural New England culture.

It seems like maple is visible all over the place this time of year, but the trees themselves remain hidden to the untrained eye without their summer leaves. Learn to identifying sugar maples during the off-season for growing (but on-season for tapping) by looking closely at leaf buds and bark, and create your own March nature table filled with leaf buds of all kinds.

Let sugar season be a time of year for reconnecting to community and strengthening your sense of place through value-based community engagement that supports learning. Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. Additionally, maple sugaring brings opportunities for families to engage in intergenerational community-based learning through visits to farms, community meals, living history, and experiential hands-on activities. April and May might be filled with the blossoms of spring, but there is no need for flowers when we have sweet maple syrup to enjoy on our pancakes with family and friends!

Sugaring season has been a New England tradition since practically forever. It was written about by English settlers as early as the mid-1600’s, and was a Native American harvest long before any Europeans set foot in North America. The history of this annual sap-harvesting tradition can’t really be boiled down to any specific time period or group of people, but it has nevertheless been done year after year for countless generations.

Families can experience what maple sugaring was like in the days of old New England at living history events where museum interpreters dressed in period clothing demonstrate life and skills from Colonial New England, including: tree tapping, sumac spile making, sap boiling over a fire, open hearth cooking, and other early American skills. At living history museums, history comes alive and are wonderful community-based resources for curious minds wanting to learn about New England history and lore of maple syrup.

A popular sugar season tradition for families in western Massachusetts is visiting a nearby sugar shack. There are sugar shacks to visit all over the region, and a great many of these can pair the experience of watching fresh maple sap be boiled down into a thick syrup with a homemade stack of maple syrup-covered pancakes. Many sugarhouses offer informative tours of their facilities, demonstrating their process of tapping, collecting, boiling, and bottling their syrup. In addition to learning about the sugaring process, a visit to a sugar shack can also be a lesson in local history and community resilience – many local sugar houses have been owned and operated by the same families for a few generations, making sugaring an important part of the local economy as well as a strong link between local families and their physical surrounding.

The maple tree and sugar season have been a source of inspiration for artists and poets in New England. Here we take a look at Western Massachusetts landscape painter, Robert Strong Woodward (1885-1957), and contemporary poet, Hannah Fries. In the early 1900’s, Woodward captures a typical New England scene that one can still witness driving along the same road in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. And Fries takes the seasonality of New England living and rural life to describe a shared sentiment felt by two people in love in her poetry. See and read the influences of the maple tree and seasonal living in art and literature in the region.

If sugaring is something that your family is particularly interested in trying and you’ve got a yard full of maples, try it out for yourself at home! With the right supplies, sugaring can be a fun and fairly easy family activity. Kids will get to practice math and science skills while selecting trees to tap – first, they’ll need to identify the proper species, and then they’ll need to determine the diameter of the tree at a specific height. Lots of careful observation, use of tools, and recording of data will need to be done! Then, while you wait for the sap to collect, kids can track the amount that fills the bucket each day. Older students might even be able to figure out the percentage by which the volume of the sap decreases after it has been boiled down into syrup!

How sweet the end of winter is here in western Massachusetts – and not just because the snow is beginning to melt! Warmer temperatures signal the start of sap flow in sugar maples, whose frozen and sleepy roots and limbs come alive when the landscape begins to thaw. Maple sugaring is a centuries-old tradition in New England, and the seasonal industry remains an important part of the foundation upon which local agricultural is built. Additionally, maple sugaring brings opportunities for families to engage in intergenerational community-based learning through visits to farms, community meals, living history, and experiential hands-on activities.

Traditionally, March is the busiest time for syrup producers in New England. As the days begin to warm, sugar-rich sap starts to flow upward from its winter storage in the trees’ roots to the twigs and buds; it is this sap that has been harvested for generations to produce maple products throughout the region. Sugaring has been going on in Hopkins Forest since the mid-80s when Williams College students constructed a sugar house in an existing maple grove.

Celebrate this year’s maple season at Storrowton Village’s annual Maple Harvest Day! Families can learn about maple harvests of the past in the historic village, and celebrate the coming of spring as well!

Maple sugar season! Sienna Wildfield, Founder, HilltownFamilies.org joined Mass Appeal this past week, highlighting community-based resources and events that use the Maple sugar season as a catalyst for learning, celebrating local culture and building community.

The thaw is coming folks…no avoiding it!!! And with the thaw comes maple syrup season with Spring is on its coattails- and then there sheep shearing and all kinds of Spring filled delights! To prepare, tune into our Sheep Shearing & Maple Syrup Episode on the Hilltown Family Variety Show. Turn it up, learn a little and dance a lot!

Sugar season is upon up with sugar shacks opening up and excitement growing for all things maple! From tree identification to tapping to boiling, there is much to learn in the process of sugaring. Maple sugar season is very much a part of our local history and New England culture. Participating in maple events strengthens our sense of place while building community and making connections. Find out what’s happening in our region and all the various entry points to learning through maple syrup!

As the winter days become warmer, plants and animals begin to prepare for springtime to come. And what’s one of the first (and possibly the most delicious) signs of spring here in western Massachusetts? Maple sugaring season, of course!

Maple Syrup Season The moment that we have been waiting for all winter is here: Maple Syrup Time!  The ground is thawing, and the sap is running… maple sugaring is everywhere, giving great reason to get out with your family to learn about the maple sugaring process while enjoying the first harvest of the year! Below, I have listed several sugar shacks where there is a restaurant, and the sap run is… Read More

28th Annual Maple Fest on Chester Hill Chester is celebrating the beginning of spring with their annual Maple Festival. On Saturday, March 16th from 9am-3pm, families are invited to visit Chester Center to experience old time sugaring first hand and relive simpler times. Families can begin their day with a traditional Country Breakfast, served continuously from 9am ‘til noon at the First Congregational Church (>$).  After breakfast, visit local artisans and craftspeople,… Read More

Listen to Podcast: SHEEP SHEARING & MAPLE SYRUP EPISODE Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am March 9th & 10th, 2013 WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio Northampton, MA  Archived Podcasts ♦Radio ♦ Facebook ♦ Twitter Lunch Money – “Wake Up, World” – Dizzy  Pete Seeger – “Maple Syrup Time” – Seeds: The Songs of Pete Seeger Kitty Donohoe  – “Maple Syrup” – Bunyan and Banjoes Phil Rosenthal – “Buffalo… Read More

Celebrate MapleFest to Maple Harvest Day, from the Berkshires to the Pioneer Valley It’s maple season in Western MA for certain!  Taps, buckets, and sap-carrying tubes have been put up in the woods all over the area, the weather is just right, and sap is running.  This weekend, celebrate the return of the state’s sweetest season at MapleFest, Hopkins State Forest’s annual celebration of the tradition of maple sugaring in Williamstown.  Taking… Read More

Maple Flan We were given some fresh eggs by a friend with chickens. The variety of colors, shapes, and sizes invite inspiration. Hmm … we have some Taproot Commons Farm raw milk to use up. Amy’s going to be happy tonight! Whatever we have for dinner, we are going to end our meal with creamy, delicious Maple Flan. Everything is local except for the vanilla and the sugar for melting into caramel…. Read More

Maple Harvest Day at Storrowton Village Sunday, March 11th, 2012 Springtime in New England means maple syrup season!  As the days get longer and warmer, the sap starts flowing by the bucket.  Maple syrup and maple sugar production has been important within New England culture ever since the earliest days of the region, and Storrowton Village in West Springfield is offering families a chance to learn about the history of the practice!… Read More

Breakfast Giveaway in Western MA: Sugar Shack Breakfast for Your Family Plus Locally Produced Coffee & Tea Gift Boxes Maple Sugar Season is upon us and many families make it an annual tradition to enjoy breakfast together at one of the rustic sugar shacks in the region.  It’s a great way to spend a morning together with the kids while enjoying the first harvest of the year and watching the sugaring process. … Read More

Maple Sugar Season 2012 Maple syrup is the first harvest of the year, and this year it’s arrived a couple of weeks early. Trees being tapped, sap is being boiled and sugar shacks are serving up their sweet harvest.  Read our post, Q&A: Where’s Your Favorite Sugar Shack in Western MA? to discover a sugar shack nearest you, and take the family to check out these events below happening in March: 

Question and Answer Sugar season is fast approaching! Where’s your favorite sugar bush or sugar shack to take the family during Maple sugar season? Anita Morehouse recommends: “Growing up we always went to Gould’s in Shelburne… or was it Charlemont?” Jenny Giering recommends: High Hopes Farm in South Worthington on Rt. 112! Open every Saturday & Sunday from 2/26 to Easter 7 AM – 2 PM. Awesome breakfast & great syrup!” Maryellen… Read More

March is Maple Syrup Time in Western MA Massachusetts’s maple forests have endured the winter months and are ready to produce sweet and flavorful maple syrup.  Maple events, sugarhouse visits and farm fresh maple delights from restaurants, markets, bed and breakfasts and local farms, offer great seasonal outings for families all over Western Mass.“Sugarmakers around Massachusetts are looking forward to the season. We’re all proud to be continuing a craft that has… Read More

Ratios as a Sweet Treat! By CISA As one of his first orders of business, CISA’s new Executive Director, Phil Korman, has offered to share a maple syrup-based math lesson that he developed for use in his son’s 4th grade classroom. He’s been doing a variation on this lesson with his son’s class for several years, so it can be adjusted to fit most young age groups. First he introduces the students… Read More

Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back: A Native American Year of Moons By J. Bruchac & J. London Illustrated by Thomas Locker “In many Native American cultures each of the thirteen moons of the year is said to hold its own story, and each is powered by the turtle who is believed to contain the mystery of the moon in the shell of its back.” Legend has it that North America is the… Read More

Listen to Podcast: SHEEP SHEARING & MAPLE SYRUP EPISODE Shearing the sheep and skirting the fleece at Red Gate Farm in Buckland, MA. Click on photo to see more images. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfie Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am Feb. 28th, 2009 WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio Northampton, MA New Podcasts ♦ Archived Podcasts ♦ Subscribe to Podcast Radio ♦ Facebook ♦ Twitter Lunch Money – “Wake Up,… Read More

SUGGEST AN EVENT If you have a family-friendly event or educational program happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, post your event on our “Suggest An Event” page. FEATURED EVENT CFC Family Contra Dance: This Saturday evening from 6:30-8:30pm the Cummington Family Center will host their 2nd Annual Family Contra Dance at the Cummington Community House on Main Street in Cummington, MA.  Steve Howland and his band… Read More

Maple syrup production is dictated almost entirely by the weather. Alternating warm days and freezing nights are ideal conditions for sugaring. This winter the ground didn’t freeze thoroughly, which means that the sugar run may be short this year.