Maple Sugaring in Vermont
As winter does its slow roll into spring, the Mad River Valley — and Vermont in general — is happily in the thick of one of the undisputed highlights of the New England calendar: maple-sugaring season!
There’s no better place to get a sense for the age-old tradition of maple sugaring than Vermont — well, in the United States, anyway. We have to admit, grudgingly, that Quebec’s technically No. 1 when it comes to maple-syrup production, but the Green Mountain State is the U.S. leader by far, churning out better than a million gallons per year. (And remember how much smaller we are than Quebec!)
The tradition of harvesting the sweet juices of sugar maples in late winter and early spring (when freeze-thaw cycles spur sap to run) well predates Euro-American colonization. American Indians in this part of the continent certainly tapped the trees. The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets suggests the Abenaki may have shown white settlers the secret of cutting a maple trunk and collecting the leaking sap, which the colonists called “Indian molasses.”
By the 18th century, both Native Americans and Euro-Americans in the region were boiling sap down to maple syrup. Sugarmakers maintained groves of sugar maple for the purpose, called “sugar bushes” (sometimes referred to as “sugarwoods”), a practice and nomenclature that lives on today.
Early on, the boiling-down process occurred outdoors in iron kettles, but by the mid-1800s, the action was more commonly going down via efficient evaporator pans set inside “sugarhouses.” It takes some 40 gallons of maple sap (at about 2 percent sugar) to render a single gallon of syrup (close to 70 percent sugar).
You’ll still find working sugarhouses all across Vermont, and our Mad River Valley backyard here at The Pitcher Inn is no exception. Up in Montpelier, for instance, you’ve got Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks and Bragg Farm Sugarhouse; even nearer to hand is Waitsfeld’s Hartshorn Farm, which is hosting the Mad River Valley Maple Festival on April 1st through 3rd.
Visiting a “sugar shack” this time of year means witnessing firsthand a basic process that has changed little over the decades — and sampling plenty of maple sap, syrup, and associated confections.
We invite you to stay with us here at the lovely Pitcher Inn on the banks of the Mad River and celebrate one of Vermont’s most distinctive seasons: maple-sugaring time! It’ll be a lip-smacking visit, we assure you — and also a bit of a journey back in time.