Late February marks the beginning of an old New England tradition when farmers gather sap from sugar maple tree stands and boil it down to a lip-smacking amber syrup. Sugaring season in the Berkshires, and in nearly every small village in Massachusetts, is the very first sign of spring. Well, spring as it’s defined in the world of agriculture – temperatures are not yet worthy of the name! Maple season provides the first glimmer of hope for longer days and greener pastures.
The thawing temperatures of the day followed by below-freezing nights, are just right for the demanding task of maple sugaring. As mercury climbs upward, so does the sap, which travels toward the tree’s limbs and buds. This makes it possible to tap and extract the sap from maple trees, gather it in buckets, then haul the containers away to boil the sap down – a true labor of love. About 40 or 50 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of maple syrup, making the efforts labor-intensive.
Maple sugaring takes place during a six-week window and is a great time to celebrate the end of winter with family and friends in the Berkshires. Be sure to make plenty of stops along the way to enjoy some local flavor.
In the Warfield family since 1868, the Warfield House Inn at Valley View Farm in Charlemont provides a unique agricultural experience during maple season. Overlooking the scenic Mohawk Trail surrounded by snow-covered forest, visitors can immerse themselves in a New England family farm tradition, take a farm tour, visit the sugarhouse to see the makings of maple syrup and sample maple-infused dishes in the Warfield House’s pub.
Nestled in the Northern Berkshires, Sweet Brook Farm of Williamstown produces maple syrup from their new state-of-the-art sugarhouse. The farm is also home to a growing herd of alpacas, which are raised for their beautiful yarns and ultra-warm, ultra-soft garments. On winter weekends, visitors can tour the scenic alpaca farm on a Belgian horse-drawn sleigh ride through maple sugar bush and around the beautiful property with a unique view of Mount Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts. Sleigh rides last approximately 45 minutes with a break for hot cocoa in “The Old Sap Bucket Inn,” a cozy cabin in the woods. Visit Sweet Brook Farm’s website for details.
To purchase locally-made maple products plus a wide selection of local artisan hand-crafted foods in the Berkshires year round, visit Cricket Creek Farm in Williamstown, Berkshire Organics in Dalton, Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and Taft Farms in Great Barrington.
Ioka Valley Farm in Hancock, who is this month’s featured farm, produces maple syrup and specialty maple products and offer sugarhouse tours with maple boiling demonstrations and product samplings in season.
Celebrating the first harvest of the season, Berkshire Grown’s annual March Maple Dinner at Cranwell Resort in Lenox takes place on March 24. This special maple-inspired event will benefit Berkshire Grown and its Share the Bounty project. Jeff Thompson, executive chef at Wheatleigh, has recruited this year’s team of Berkshire chefs to prepare a five-course dinner highlighting seasonal, local ingredients. Chris Bonnivier of Gala Steakhouse & Bistro in Williamstown; Marianne Comella from Mezze Bistro + Bar in Williamstown; Carl DeLuce of Cranwell Resort in Lenox; Daire Rooney from Allium in Great Barrington; and, Christophe Jalbert of Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington will contribute their talents to the meal. For more info, visit www.berkshiregrown.org.
Other Maple Inspired Events:
The Massachusetts Maple Producers Association will be celebrating Massachusetts Maple Weekend on March 22nd and 23rd throughout the state putting the spotlight on restaurants offering special menu items with maple syrup as a featured ingredient. Participating restaurants in the Berkshires include The Red Lion Inn, Castle Street Café, John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant, Nudel and Allium. Visit the website for details.
It will soon be time for steaming hot blueberry pancakes and crisp, buttery waffles covered in freshly-made, pure maple syrup in a cozy sugarhouse. Or, a maple-glazed pork chop accompanied by maple-infused craft cocktails at one of our great farm-to-table restaurants. Share the joy of the first true rite of spring and connect with nature, heritage and culture right here in the Berkshires. It’s a sweet, delicious drive through some gorgeous countryside.
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