by Nancy Macy
Maple sugaring season in Massachusetts is short, sweet, and savory. From mid-February to mid-March, as daytime temperatures rise above freezing, the sap of the sugar maple tree begins to flow. That’s when the trees are tapped and buckets are hung to collect the clear, trickling liquid, which transforms into maple syrup and other tasty maple products you find at local farms, grocers, and restaurants.
Holiday Brook Farm in Dalton is one of several Berkshire sugarhouses that open their doors for public tours. Visit the farm during the season to see the process of turning sap into syrup. They also explain the various grades of syrup, all notably different in color, thickness, and flavor intensity. Most people have a preference between light and dark or thick and thin syrup. A tour is a great opportunity to sample each grade to determine which one is your personal favorite.
Another tasty way to sample Berkshire maple products during the season is the Berkshire Grown March Maple Dinner, an annual celebration of the maple harvest. Award-winning local chefs and food purveyors create a multi-course menu featuring all things maple. This year’s host is Adam Zieminski, owner/chef of CaféADAM in Great Barrington. Be quick in getting tickets for this popular event. This year it will be held on March 21 at Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort.
You’ll find Berkshire maple syrup alongside other locally grown foods on the tables of our inns and bed-and-breakfasts. The Inn at Sweet Water Farm in Great Barrington, for example, cooks up delicious breakfasts from their 19th-century farmhouse kitchen. They use their own eggs, locally raised meats and dairy, and homemade jams and bread. Co-owner Lynda’s steel-cut oatmeal recipe (featured below) is made with maple water, which is a sweet sparkling liquid made from sap collected from the sugar maple in their own backyard. Alongside this comforting meal are pitchers of syrup from Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock and the sugarhouse that is within walking distance of their farm. Sweet Water Farm maple water may also show up in Lynda’s mint tea recipe or be served to you simply as a refreshing chilled drink with a subtle maple taste.
No matter how it’s served, locally produced maple syrup is a distinctive flavor of the Berkshire food scene. Enjoy the short season here, and be sure to take home a bottle (or a quart) for your own pantry! As promised, below is a very simple yet tasty way to enjoy Berkshire maple syrup in your own home. Enjoy and don’t forget to #TasteBerkshires.
Oatmeal with Very Sweet Water
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups maple sap or water (if you use water, add a tablespoon of maple syrup)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Combine ingredients in a double boiler.
2. Give a quick stir and bring water in the lower chamber to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to medium.
4. Cook for 1 hour, covered tightly.
5. Serve the oatmeal sprinkled with 3 tablespoons of brown sugar.
6. Top with golden raisins and walnuts.
7. Offer small pitchers of heavy cream and maple syrup on the side.