Spring is in the air! And sugaring season is in full swing. Some people associate maple syrup with Canada but the truth is, Vermont is where it’s at.
This weekend we celebrated Vermont maple open house weekend. Two days of sugar houses opening their doors to the public to learn how sugaring works and indulge in sinfully sweet maple delights. From shots of pure maple syrup to lollipops, sugar on snow, maple candy, and maple cream… maple EVERYTHING was on tap to sample.
Last spring, my son and I decided to partake in maple open house weekend but we only visited one sugarhouse, LaDuc Acres Maple Products. This year, we wanted to do it again but make it sort of a “pub crawl” but with sugarhouses. Since we enjoyed LaDuc Acres so much we traveled up to Orwell, VT and started our journey there.
Upon entering the sugarhouse it’s always so welcoming. Despite a year gone by without seeing the family, it was nice to be remembered! Everyone is incredibly friendly and the whole family is participating in giving tours. They explain the process of syrup-making from collecting sap
The LaDucs have been sugaring for 5 generations. Over the years there have been many advances made. For example, a lot of sugarhouses have converted from tree taps and sap buckets to using plastic tubing and collecting larger batches of sap in catch bins. However, one of the patriarchs of the LaDuc family still likes to utilize traditional methods of sap collection because it has sentimental value.
Sugarhouses come in all shapes and sizes. The operation can be as small or as large as one wants it to be. From what I have seen, the LaDuc’s run a larger operation out of a medium sized family sugar shack. The sugarhouses we popped into on the way home from there were slightly smaller in operation and sugarhouse size. The final sugarhouse we ended up visiting was the Brown’s Family Farm Sugarhouse, located in Benson, VT.
From the outside, this sugarhouse looked like it would be about the same size as the one at LaDuc Acres. When you walk inside, though, the vibe is much different. The ceilings were vaulted to accommodate a much larger scale piece of equipment which allowed the Brown’s process to be more efficient. Long story short, they could produce the same amount of syrup in less time because their boiler does not use reverse osmosis like many other sugarhouses do.
While we were at Brown’s Family Farm I tasted some raw sap. I was a little skeptical at first but it wasn’t bad! It actually was similar to water but with the after taste of a very watered down, unsweetened iced tea. That was a cool experience.
Overall, the boiling process was about the same at every sugarhouse. Along the way, we learned lots of fun facts about sugaring:
- It takes around 40 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of Vermont maple syrup.
- Vermont is the #1 producer of maple syrup in the United States.
- Maple syrup is 100% organic. Some water is removed from the sap but nothing is added.
- The different grades of syrup are based on the sugar content of the sap collected.
- One batch of boiled sap may yield multiple grades of finished maple syrup.
- Maple trees are not tapped until they are around 40 years old/10-12 inches in diameter.
- Maple trees are a renewable resource and will produce sap for maple syrup for 70-100 years.
- Maple sap is what the trees use to make buds so when they start to bloom it is time to stop sugaring.
As far as Vermont maple syrup goes, it may seem like it’s an immensely profitable, booming business (which it is) but despite making money from their crop, sugaring is more of a hobby. Most producers are families with full time jobs. After working long hours at their day job, they come home and put blood, sweat, and tears into sugaring.
Getting out and touring our local sugarhouses was not only fun but it was also important! Whether I made a purchase from their sugarhouse or not, just showing up is showing support! It was also a good time to teach my son a hidden life lesson.
Every family puts so much hard work into their product so buying local is the difference between these families working for nothing or working for something.
Get out and explore!