March is a rough month. Winter fun starts to lose its novelty. The snow goes from being bright white to dirty grey, and cabin fever sets in. And don’t even get me started on St. Patrick’s Day. But, there is one little thing that saves March from being pure torture: the start of maple syrup season. Our guide to maple syrup season in New England will help you beat the winter blues and start spring on a sweet note.
About maple syrup
The season is all about waiting for the right conditions (freezing nights and mild days) that get the sap in the region’s many sugar maple trees flowing. Things start moving in late February, but March is when maple season starts to kick into high gear. Beyond the temperature, the trees themselves must be in good condition to provide sap. Sugar maple trees must be 10 inches in diameter before they’re mature enough to be tapped. There’s nothing worse than an immature sugar maple, and it could take up to 40 years for a sugar maple to be big enough. The tapping process involves drilling holes into the trees and using a spout or plastic tubing system to collect the sap. It’s then taken to a sugarhouse and boiled down to reduce the liquid into the sticky, sweet syrup we all know and love.
There are 4 different grades of maple syrup, ranging from Grade A: Golden Color & Delicate Taste (the first syrup to be tapped, it’s light in color and flavor, making it perfect for drizzling on pancakes or granola) to Grade A: Very Dark and Strong Flavor (which is usually sold to factories for maple-flavored candies and such, although it can be used in home cooking as a replacement for molasses). New Englanders like to go for the two middle-strength syrups: Grade A: Amber Color and Rich Flavor and Grade A: Dark Color and Robust Flavor. These are super versatile and are ideal for baking, glazing meat, using in place of honey, adding to sauces, or even mixing into cocktails, if you want to get wild with it. And putting on waffles, of course. And yes, it’s very confusing that all grades of maple syrup are designated as “grade A”… but I like to think it’s because there’s no such thing as bad maple syrup.
Guide to maple syrup season in New England
New England produces a whopping 65% of the country’s maple syrup. Vermont alone accounts for 40% of the sugary sweet deliciousness. It’s a popular draw for tourists, especially since the syrup is better the fresher it is. You can tour syrup farms and sugar houses, attend festivals, and stock up on maple-y goodness for the year (and pancakes) to come. Whether you’re visiting a tiny little sugar shack tucked away off a back road in the forest, or you’re heading to a farm that has a maple syrup operation on their property, there’s no denying that syrup hot ‘n’ fresh out the boiler tastes best. Here are some highlights with our guide to maple syrup season in New England.
Vermont is the beating heart of maple syrup country. There are literally countless maple syrup farms and sugarhouses in the Green Mountain State. There are also lots of festivals and events in towns across Vermont celebrating the syrup. Most occur in April but you’ll find a few in late March. Some involve maple pie baking contests (drool), sugarhouse tours, demonstrations of old-school maple syrup making techniques, pancake breakfasts (also drool), street festivals, and more. The statewide open house weekend for sugarhouses is March 24th and 25th for 2018. This is when most sugarhouses open their doors for tours and a behind-the-scenes look at their operation. B&Bs and restaurants partner with Vermont Maple as well, making it the ideal weekend for a sweet escape (pun intended, teehee). The largest maple festival in Vermont is the one in St. Albans, which will take place April 27-29th in 2018. It features an antique show, a carnival, shows, live music… and plenty of treats showcasing syrup.
It’s impossible to pick highlights of Vermont’s sugarhouses, or even count the number of maple syrup producers. Some of the larger operations, like Goodrich Maple Farm, are open year round. Additional products to pick up include maple cream, maple leaf cookies, Vermont fudge made with maple, Vermont hot cocoa with maple, maple pepper seasoning, Vermont mustard with (you guessed it!) maple, and maple candy. And if you’re visiting during the summer, don’t miss out on the experience of a maple creemee. Creemees are what Vermonters call soft serve ice cream stands, and maple creemees are soft serve ice cream made with maple syrup and/or sugar. Morse Farm Sugar Works actually makes a mean maple creemee that you shouldn’t miss out on. Mmm.
Vermont’s next-door neighbor is no slouch when it comes to sugar maple sweetness, either. There’s both a maple month and a maple weekend where sugar shacks offer tours, samples, breakfast treats, and more. Some B&Bs and inns might offer their own maple sugar weekend packages on their own as well. Snowvillage Inn is one place offering a special maple-themed weekend getaway that looks kind of adorable, and also delicious.
Fadden’s General Store has been tapping and boiling syrup since the 19th century and serves as an old-school grocery and maple museum, in addition to their maple-making operation. Plus, you can buy a growler of syrup, and I think that that is an appropriate amount of syrup to buy. And, whenever you can (whether it’s offered at a shack or you make it at home), try sugar on snow. You simply take maple syrup heated to about 230 degrees and drizzle it over snow, turning it into a taffy-like treat that some people like to serve with doughnuts or (stick with me here) sour pickles.
The maple fun stretches its way into Maine. Every year, there’s a statewide maple Sunday, which always falls on the fourth Sunday in March. Some sugarhouses even like to celebrate the whole weekend. You’ll find most of the maple syrup makers are located in the southwest region of the state if you’re looking to hit as many as possible on Maple Sunday. Just an FYI. Also, this year is the 35th anniversary of Maine’s Maple Sunday, so you’ll be able to buy syrup in a commemorative glass bottle honoring the occasion The Maine Maple Producers Association says that the weather has been cooperating this year, so the yield looks like it’ll be good for 2018.
Stores in Maine whip up creative maple creations like BBQ sauce, maple sprinkes, popcorn, and even tea, in addition to maple cream, maple pepper, maple drops, and other standards. A lot of sugarhouses like to make maple whoopie pies as well. The whoopie pie is Maine’s official state treat (not to be confused with their official state dessert, which is blueberry pie) and the maple version is pretty stellar. In fact, maple syrup is the state sweetener of Maine, so eating a maple whoopie pie is basically the most Maine thing you can do.
Massachusetts makes some wicked good maple syrup. The Warren Farm even offers maple syrups infused with cinnamon, cranberry, vanilla, and even habanero, along with smoked maple and maple molé. A lot of the operations here in Massachusetts are smaller, but this is one of the best states for direct, sugarmaker-to-consumer sales. That means that you get the freshest syrup, and help support family businesses. The only thing better than eating pancakes with fresh maple is feeling good about eating pancakes with fresh maple. Massachusetts is kicking off the season with its ceremonial tree-tapping on March 9th in Lennox. Maple Week is on the third weekend in March every year (that’s March 17-18 for 2018). Sugarmakers will be holding open houses and pancake breakfasts, and restaurants around the state will be featuring dishes made with mouthwatering Mass maple!
The next stop on our guide to maple syrup season in New England is Connecticut, which has a pretty impressive maple scene as well. Most offer pure maple candy, maple cream and syrup, while some make maple coffee, kettlecorn, glazed nuts, spices and extracts, and more. A lot of these sugar shacks also offer local honey as well, in case the maple alone isn’t sweet enough for you.
Don’t count out the smallest state; they make some mean maple, too. Obviously, the best place to find the syrup is in the town of Mapleville. The Mapleville Farm sells syrup from several local manufacturers. They’re also an amazing bakery, and their rolls look like they’d be delicious with some maple cream on top. And don’t leave without trying their pizza strips; they’re a Rhode Island delicacy that has nothing to do with maple. They just look interesting.
…now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat a stack of syrupy pancakes while sitting in a bathtub filled with maple.
The map guide to maple syrup season in New England
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