Maple Sap Syrup Sugar

Maple Sugaring 2014

This weekend is Vermont Maple Open House Weekend, where maple syrup producers across the state open their sugarhouse doors to visitors. The past few years we have enjoyed starting off the weekend with a trip to Shelburne Farms. They offer a pancake breakfast to support Shelburne Explorers 4-H. The kids who participate are really involved in the breakfast, taking payments and serving pancakes and helping to make sure syrup and coffee are stocked. To be sure, lots of parents and other adults are there to help as well, but I love that the kids are right in there getting their hands sticky.

This pancake breakfast is so popular that in the past we have had to wait in a pretty long line to get in. Pancakes were slid onto compostable paper plates as fast as they came off the griddle. Coffee ran out and seating was scarce. It was still a blast for us as a family, including my parents up for the weekend several years in a row. This year, however, I guess we timed it right–no line, no waiting, plenty of coffee and syrup. I think getting there a little later made the difference.

No wait for breakfast but the place was still super busy

No wait for breakfast but the place was still super busy

One of the great things about this event is that the sugarhouse is so accessible. It is designed for education so there is a platform in the sugarhouse to stand on and watch. While sap flows have been meager so far this year, they had some on hand to demonstrate the boiling process. They also scatter small discs cut from maple saplings in the area around the sugarhouse–find one and hand it in for a maple candy. Find one with a maple tree drawn on it and get a large maple candy. Find one with a red maple leaf and hand it in for a pint of maple syrup. My daughter was determined to find that red maple leaf, as she is every year. And this year she did! The mother lode baby.

They also have other activities. Help tap a tree. Try sugar on snow. See a live bird demonstration with an owl. Check out the farm animals. It is good fun indeed.

Heating maple syrup for sugar on snow

Heating maple syrup for sugar on snow

Pouring the hot syrup onto fresh snow

Pouring the hot syrup onto fresh snow

Now wait a few minutes for a chewy and sweet maple treat

Now wait a few minutes for a chewy and sweet maple treat

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Are these lambs the cutest critters around or what?

Are these lambs the cutest critters around or what?

We didn’t end there, however. We wanted to purchase some fresh syrup. Despite the new pint we are close to out of maple syrup at our house. Last year we probably went through about three gallons for the year. Assuming we get some from our farm share I figured we would need about two gallons. We stopped by Shelburne Sugarworks, right nearby, for our supply. We got a couple of gallons from them last year and so brought in the empty glass jugs. They said they would refill them if we were willing to come back later in the day, so we enjoyed some maple cotton candy, purchased some maple sugar (looks like brownish cane sugar but made maple sap–put that in your   coffee!) and watched the band set up. We left before the bluegrass started.

My dad and I headed back at the end of the day. We had a to wait a half hour while they filtered and pasteurized it. When we walked out of the sugarhouse I could barely hold the glass jars it was still that hot. I was careful not to slip on the ice. Busting open one of those on the frozen ground would have been a sad situation.

Amber treasure

Amber treasure

 

 

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Sap Rising?

Sun shining through onto the maples and sap buckets

Sun shining through onto the maples and sap buckets

I got the word yesterday that Shelburne Sugarworks, just up the road, will be holding their first Sugar on Snow Weekend this weekend. This means watching sap get boiled into syrup, plus tours of the sugarbush, samples, and sugar on snow complete with pickle and donut. I learned this on a morning that started at 9 degrees below zero.

Then I read that afternoon that the annual statewide Maple Open House Weekend is happening on March 22-23. This is great weekend to see sugaring in action and to get some syrup for the year. Last year I bought two gallons from Shelburne Sugarworks. It was not at all enough. We supplemented that throughout the year with over a gallon from other local sugar makers. This year we may need to stock up more earlier. In past years we also have attended the open house at Shelburne Farms on this weekend. They have a pancake breakfast and, well, the whole awesome farm to check out.

It was hard to believe yesterday that spring is close enough that sap will be running soon. We had several nights of below-zero temperatures. The snow is crusted right over. The wind has been blowing the loose snow into drifts. It has been downright wintry. Then today I left work and it felt sort of warm outside. The thermometer in the car read 32. Almost springlike?

I took a short walk after hanging out and sitting all day, at Wheeler Park in South Burlington. It was an easy walk on the packed snow, across a field and then into the woods. The cedars were thick at one point and then just ended with an abrupt transition into a hardwood stand, with a mix of young and old trees. Hanging on the larger maples were galvanized sap buckets. Someone clearly is anticipating some thawing. The sap run requires nights below freezing and days above freezing. There could be some sap running this weekend.

Spring might not be far off after all.

Ready for Sap to Run

Ready for Sap to Run

Sugaring

Spring is definitely around the corner when open house time comes to sugar houses around the state. This weekend was it. My daughter and I hopped over the hill to Shelburne Farms for their event. We got there late in the morning and started things off with their benefit pancake breakfast. We ate pancakes with, duh, maple syrup and sipped hot beverages (cocoa for her, coffee for me) before wandering about the animal barns. There was a passel of new lambs we oohed at for a while, guarded by a llama (it sported a hand written sign that read “I Spit!”). Then we made our way up the muddy trail to the sugar house.

Pile of Fluffiness

The sugar house was a busy place–lots of visitors and lots of steam. The sap was running and syrup was in the making.

Boiling Under Way

Formerly Maple Sap

A Lesson at the Steamer

We had the opportunity to taste the generous doses of fresh syrup that volunteers were handing out and we walked up the hill to see the lines–tubes that catch the sap and run it down to the collector to be boiled down. They tap about 500 trees (I paid attention during the lesson) so they make a fair amount of syrup, most of which gets used the in restaurant on site. I will have to head back over there at some point for breakfast.

We tried to stop at Palmer’s Sugarhouse on the way home to purchase some syrup even closer to home. We stopped and headed inside but that place was so packed we would have had to wait at least a half hour in line. Forget it. They were boiling like mad with their oil-fueled system–bigger and faster than the system at Shelburne Farms, no doubt. I’ll go back to Palmer’s some time this week and buy a couple gallons.  If they still have it.

We have enough maple syrup to get us through for a little while, but that stuff is just plain old good. Makes me want to whip up some yeasted waffle batter tonight so we can have them in the morning. But maybe I’m not quite that ambitious. The ideal situation would be if someone else made the waffles. That however, ain’t happening. Maybe next weekend.

Too Much Sugar

Crowd at the Shelburne Farms Sugar House

Crowd at the Shelburne Farms Sugar House

The first dose of sugar at least came from natural sources. We visited Shelburne Farms for their pancake breakfast, complete with real maple syrup. The cakes were complemented by juice and then hot chocolate. It was a great breakfast, a fundraiser for 4H. But sweet for the children.

We visited the sugar house, watched them boiling down the sap into syrup. Of course, they handed out free samples, small for an adult but large for the tykes. In the sugarush they had hidden small wooden disks, sliced from small maples. Those could be handed in for hard maple candies, one for one. So the children each had one of those.

My parents, visiting for the weekend, wanted to puchase some maple syrup, so we stopped at Palmer’s Sugarhouse, a little closer to home. We watched them boiling as well and got, again, free samples. These samples were much more generous. And my wife also bought some cotton candy and–how could she not?–shared that with her progeny.

Back at home we had lunch. That was a little healthier. Even the afternoon snacks were decent. The problem came later. My children, with their cute wiles, convinced my parents to take us all to Friendly’s for dinner. Friendly’s is fun but doesn’t exactly serve health food, if you know what I mean. After a dinner a little too concentrated in the fried genre, we had ice cream sundaes. The sundaes were part of the point of dining at this particular establishment so they were not to be denied, but whew, it was good that have that over.

Too much sugar today. Normally I would not allow all that crap to enter the system of my small and precious youngsters, at least not all in one day, but it seemed a tricky one to navigate, what with the pre-planned pancake breakfast and the grandparents and Friendly’s. It is only one day, however. Tomorrow we get back to cracking down. Apples and yogurt will rule over treats.

It was a fun day. The children settled down and fell asleep without too much trouble. We had a fine hike while we were at Shelburne Farms and they ran around a lot today. It was pretty much perfect–sunny and in the 60’s. So hopefully they managed to work the sweet out of their little systems. Maybe it evened out. I ran eight miles this afternoon, so I’m not worried about myself too much. Except that I need a haircut something fierce, but that is off the topic.

All in all we enjoyed our maple sugaring open house day, even if it meant too many sweets. What’s one day? It is a good thing sugaring season only lasts a short time. And that the kids get sick of pancakes. Plus, I won’t have the clean the griddle tomorrow morning. That will give me more time to run off the ice cream I ate with dinner.