By Kathy Brown.
Update 3/13/2020 — The statewide Maple Weekend scheduled for March 21-22 has been canceled due to COVID-19. Please check prior to purchasing to see if Sugar Shacks are open during this time.
Have you seen the buckets on the maple trees as you traverse Haddam and Killingworth roads? It’s maple syrup time in New England. Who doesn’t love a little maple syrup on their pancakes or waffles all year round? When my children were small, they both had many food intolerances. One couldn’t have cane sugar, and one couldn’t have beet sugar. What were we left with? Maple sugar. And it was delicious. We used maple cream in cookies or spread on toast, maple sugar crystals in baking, and maple syrup in our baked beans and other recipes. This time of year was great because there were maple festivals that had maple syrup on snow (which is lacking this year), maple cotton candy, and other once a year treats. My kids loved going to sugar shacks in the area to watch the syrup being made.
Maple syrup begins as sap in a maple tree. It runs in the early spring when temperatures rise into the 40s during the day, but cool off into the 20s at night, which usually happens at the end of February. The climate in New England is perfect for maple syrup, but the season only lasts about a month. Trees are tapped, which is usually done by a drill, which makes a small hole. Then a spile is inserted into the hole, and the sap drips out when the conditions are perfect. Some people collect their sap in a bucket, others collect theirs in special tubes that flow to a holding tank. You need 35-50 gallons of sap to make ONE gallon of maple syrup. Then you need to take all of that sap that you’ve collected, and bring it to the sugar house, where it’s poured into an evaporator, where the water is boiled off, and the sap is concentrated into maple syrup. As the water is boiled off and the sugar becomes more concentrated, it moves to the front of the evaporator, where it is drawn off and filtered. Once filtered, it iss put into bottles or other containers.
All of the syrup is equally sweet, however the “grades” of syrup denote color and taste, and the grading was changed in 2015. We now have:
- Grade A – Golden Color and Delicate Taste (the lightest of grades, and recommended for drizzling over waffles, pancakes, or ice cream)
- Grade A – Amber Color and Rich Flavor (a little more flavorful, and works well for cooking and baking)
- Grade A – Dark Color and Robust Flavor (stronger in flavor and works well for recipes that require a heavy maple flavor)
- Grade A – Very Dark and Strong Flavor (best used as a substitute for molasses)
Maple Cream is made by heating the syrup to 235F, then put into an ice bath to rapidly drop the temperature to 65F, according to Chelsea Cleveland. Then you just mix and mix until you get cream. “You can use it for a spread on toast, apple dip, bake with, make frosting with. It’s delicious!” said Chelsea Cleveland.
There are even health benefits to using maple syrup:
- Its glycemic index is 54, lower than table sugar or honey.
- Maple syrup contains 22% of the daily allowance for Manganese
- Maple syrup contains 24 antioxidants that help protect against many health conditions.
Maple Weekend in CT is March 21-22, 2020 according to the ctvisit.com website. It says to visit sugar shacks all over the state.
Parmelee Farm Sugar Shack (Killingworth) – They are open on weekends for syrup sales and tours from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. And weekdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for boiling and collecting. They are taking part in Maple Weekend.
Higganum Cover Sugarbush (Haddam) – Dale and his son Jeremy DeCarli make their syrup in their sugar shack. Most weekends during the season, they are in the shack boiling on weekends, and people are welcome. Their syrup can be found at Fork in the Road and Red Barn Feed Store. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cleve’s Giants Sugar Shack (Higganum) – They began making syrup about three years ago for themselves and a few friends, but as time passed, and word of mouth more and more people are wanting to try their syrup. They are not participating officially this year in Maple Weekend, however, they do welcome visitors at their sugar shack any time. To purchase their maple syrup or maple cream, you can contact the Clevelands at email@example.com.
Sunnycrest Farm (Killingworth) – They have been making maple syrup since about 1996, with a few years break. This year they are not selling to the public due to low production. But next year they should have up to 200 taps.
If you produce maple syrup in Haddam or Killingworth, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can include you on the list!
Photos of tree, evaporator, and Cleve’s Giants Sugar Shack provided by Chelsea Cleveland. Parmelee Farm Sugar Shack photo from their Facebook page.