Sweet Season

  • Matthew Myers

It’s the simplest of recipes — with the sweetest results.

Take 40 gallons of clear, colorless sap from maple trees, collected in metal pails, five-gallon buckets, or through miles of plastic tubing snaking through the woods. Boil it for hours, and hours, over a wood fire, creating billows of steam, carefully monitoring the temperature. When the  golden liquid reaches the right consistency, filter it and pour it into jars or bottles.

Simple? Sure. But it’s a long, hot, steamy process that must be done outdoors or in a sugar-house designed for the purpose. Don’t try this indoors if you value your wallpaper!

Here’s an alternative: Head out to a local sugarhouse, watch someone else do the work, and enjoy a ladle of sweet, sticky syrup poured over a bowl of fresh snow. And don’t forget to take home a jug — or two — of  that precious amber deliciousness to grace your pancakes and waffles throughout the year.

Blink and It’s Gone

Maple sugar season is short — often just a few weeks — and once it’s over, you’ve got to wait another year to see this magic happen. So watch the calendar and watch the weather. The season usually starts in late February and may run into early April — although Mother Nature pulls the strings for that schedule. The collection of maple sap requires cold nights and warm, sunny days, leaving farmers on pins and needles as they await that perfect combination.

Here’s a tip: Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg is the largest maple producer in the eastern part of Massachusetts, processing sap from roughly 6,000 taps — around 80,000 gallons of maple sap — each spring!  The Sugar House is open for tours February to early April; you can step out of winter’s cold, into the toasty boiling room to watch the magical transformation take place.

Hollis Hills sports a modern operation with lots of shiny stainless steel; other sugarhouses in the area have a more traditional look, reminiscent of days gone by. But no matter what the equipment looks like, the result is the same: pure delight!

Can’t wait for February to roll around? You’ll find locally-produced maple syrup at many stores throughout the region, and, of course, at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center on Route 2!

The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association has created a brochure, map and online listing (at massmaple.org) of sugarhouses that welcome visitors. Copies are also available in the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center on Route 2 westbound to help you find this golden treasure.