Early Spring’s Sweetest Things…

The New Sugar Shack at Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont

Spring, oh spring, where are you? You certainly are a bit coquettish this year; teasing us with early catkins on willow, then snapping us with a sharp, cold sting. Yes, Spring has been withholding many early-season pleasures here in New England, but she always shows us just a bit of sweetness at this time of year in the form of maple syrup. Cold nights and warm days are part of the swing-season magic responsible for sap production here in the Northeast. And this year —with the chilly weather lingering a bit longer than usual— the maple sugaring season has been starting, stopping and sputtering along. Some days it’s too cold for sluggish sap to run —buckets sit frozen on trees— but on warmer days, the percussive sound of drips echoing along the road makes my morning walk something of a maple dance. And I think it’s always fun to end an early spring walk with a hot stack of fresh blueberry pancakes or lemony French toast, smothered in sweet maple syrup. Yum…

Though less efficient than modern methods of sap collecting, the classic tin sap-buckets are still my aesthetic favorite

The Scenic, Seasonal View Along the Road in My Neighborhood

This sugar maple has three buckets. What’s the largest number you’ve ever seen on a tree?

Though I have participated in the maple syrup-making process many times, I don’t boil sap here at my place in Vermont. However, locally made maple syrup is one of my favorite sweet treats, and since many of my friends and neighbors produce and sell maple products every year, I have access to some of the best syrup in the world. In fact, driving up and down the mucky roads in Vermont and elsewhere in the Northeast this month, it’s impossible to go far without seeing the familiar, early-spring sights of tin buckets hanging from maple trees (Acer saccharum) and steaming sugar shacks. Here are a few photos of the maple-syrup-making process, which I shot at local Deer Ridge Farm over the past couple of weeks (many thanks to Jerry Smith for allowing me in to the sugar shack during this busy season). Learn more about how maple syrup and other products are made from maple tree sap at the official Vemont Maple Syrup website, and for more links and resources on sugaring season in Vermont, be sure to check out this excellent post at the lovely Traveling Near and Far blog.

The heat necessary to boil maple sap down, creating sweet syrup, is usually generated by a wood burning stove or furnace

Jerry Smith of Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont is Busy at Work, Boiling Sap He Collected from Local Sugar Maples

Sweet-scented steam fills the air inside the Deer Ridge Farm sugar shack

It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup*. Just imagine how much time & work goes into that sweet topping, next time you take a bite of your Sunday pancake, waffle, pop-over, French toast or a sip of your Sugar Moon cocktail!

Maple Syrup is My Favorite Breakfast Topping, and I Particularly Love it on Lemony French Toast (click here for recipe)

My Sugar Moon Cocktail (click here for recipe) is Made with Locally Produced Maple Syrup

Blueberry Breakfast Popover (click here for recipe) is Absolutely Delicious with Fresh Maple Syrup


Special thanks to Jerry Smith and Deer Ridge Farm. Maple products and other produce from Deer Ridge Farm may be found at the Brattleboro Farmers Market (click here for more information).

*Thank you also to Traveling Near and Far for links, resources and fun facts!

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8 Replies to “Early Spring’s Sweetest Things…”

  1. Nancy Hamilton

    Oh, Michaela, Just rub it in why don’t you???? :)
    Brings back so many memories of Uncle’s Farm and the blue and black gallon cans with the maple tree picture on it of *real* maple syrup we used to bring home… no other is the same at all. And maple sugar candy from the little maple leaf molds… oh my – yum
    Seriously, thank you for stirring the old memories. :)

  2. jen

    The other day a friend left a glass canning jar of full of sap on the seat of my car to be discovered when I got in at the end of the day. It was warm from the sun and it took all my self control not to crack the jar open and gulp some down right then. But I’m a klutz and worried about the mess I might make.

    Some days I don’t have anything available for dousing with syrup except a spoon. Yes, I take spoonfuls of syrup right from the container.

  3. Michaela

    @ Deb – yes, maple sugaring steam is definitely the best kind of steam facial; fragrant and lovely, followed by the chill of fresh March air.

    @ Nancy – I know, I am bad. Isn’t maple candy ridiculously good? And such pretty shapes! ;) I love stirring memories… and pancake batter too!

    @ Jen – I’m all for spoon-fed enjoyment of various things: syrup, honey, jam and nut butters… to name but a few. As for gulping, well… I’ll never tell if you do it.
    xo M

  4. tea_austen

    I am so jealous!

    I grew up reading about such things in children’s books—Tasha Tudor, and Little House in the Big Woods. It always seemed magical (as did skating on ponds). But no one in California makes maple syrup. All these years later, I still haven’t seen it made.

    Can you really make maple candy by pouring lines of it in snow?

    I need to get to Vermont in the early spring. Clearly. Thanks for reviving childhood dreams!

  5. Michaela

    @ Tea, Hello there. You know, it’s funny that you mention Tasha Tudor, because her estate is on the other side of the river, just over the town line, in Marlboro, VT. I know her garden —and of course her stories— very well. Before she passed away, Tasha occasionally came to Walker Farm when I was tending the garden. She was always dressed in period costume and usually carrying her pet chicken.
    Yes, you can make maple candy by pouring it in snow. It’s actually called sugar on snow (people around here have sugar-on-snow parties). It’s soft, like taffy, and it’s delicious.
    I think there’s a bit of maple syrup production in WA state. Maybe if you fish around, and time it right, you could do some local sugaring next spring. But of course, the Green Mountain State, and I, would more than welcome you anytime, Tea.
    ;) Happy Spring. xo M

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