March is a rough month. Winter fun starts to lose its novelty. The snow goes from being bright white to dirty gray, 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.
This 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 really 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 four different grades of maple syrup, ranging from Grade A: Golden Color and 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. These two grades are also perfect for putting on waffles.
And yes, it’s very confusing that all grades of maple syrup are designated as “grade A.” I like to think it’s because there’s no such thing as bad maple syrup.
Maple syrup season in New England
New England produces a whopping 65 percent of the country’s maple syrup. Vermont alone accounts for 40 percent 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
Vermont is the beating heart of maple syrup country. No guide to maple syrup season in New England is complete without acknowledging their dominance. There are 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 this year is March 23 and 24. This is when most sugarhouses open their doors for tours and a behind-the-scenes look at their operation. Bed-and-breakfasts and restaurants partner with Vermont Maple as well, making it the ideal weekend for a sweet escape (pun intended).
The largest maple festival in Vermont is the one in St. Albans, which will take
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.
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.
And if you’re really, truly serious about your love for maple syrup, Vermont is offering out-of-staters $10,000 to move to the state. Just think of all the sweet, sticky possibilities. 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 bed-and-breakfasts and inns might offer their own maple sugar weekend packages as well. Snowvillage Inn is one place offering a special maple-themed weekend getaway that looks both adorable and 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 its maple-making operation. Plus, you can buy a growler of syrup—and that is definitely 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. It’s good to have a game plan when fresh maple is involved.
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 has about 300 syrup producers who all make some wicked good maple syrup. In 2018, the state produced 72,000 gallons of maple syrup, which is nothing to shake a French toast stick at.
The Warren Farm & Sugarhouse offers maple syrups infused with cinnamon, cranberry, vanilla, and even habanero, along with smoked maple and maple mole. A lot of the operations in Massachusetts are smaller, but this is one of the best states for direct, sugarmaker-to-consumer sales. That means 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 kicked off the season with its ceremonial tree-tapping on March 3. Maple Week is on the third weekend in March every year (that’s March 16 to 17 for 2019). 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 New England maple syrup tour
If you’re looking to try your hand at maple sugaring for yourself, head to Northwest Park in Windsor. The park’s “Sugar Meister” Chuck Drake carries on a 30-year-strong tradition of guiding a team of volunteers to tap the park’s trees and collect the sap, starting in mid-February. It all concludes on March 23 with a big pancake breakfast—using the freshly-made maple, of course.
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 the pizza strips; they’re a Rhode Island delicacy that has nothing to do with maple. They just look interesting.
A version of this story was first published on January 30, 2018.