The perfect maple syrup weather in Vermont is when temps are warm during the day to let the sap flow, but below freezing at night… and right now the weather is just about as perfect for it as you can get! This weekend, March 23rd & 24th is Maple Open House Weekend in Vermont and here are some local spots we think are must visits for getting the true Vermont maple experience – Plus a few other ideas to get your syrup fix!
STRAIGHT FROM THE SOURCE: Right in Manchester, down the street from us on Richville Road there’s Bob’s Maple Shop. Their littlest bottles saved the day when we realized at the last minute we forgot to get those for our wedding party gift bags & since then they’ve become our most convenient source for syrup. Manchester is also home to The Sugarhouse at Dutton Farm Stand, the area’s largest local farm. This is a great low pressure place to bring kids to see the boiling process, and if they aren’t that into it there’s animals to look at, a play area, and cider donuts to bribe them with (and you can even get some grocery shopping done!).
In East Dorset on Mad Tom Road, Chris’s childhood neighbors & friends, The Zecher’s run Havoc Hill Sugar House – we try to make it out there at least once every season for a visit! If Kyle’s not out gathering sap, ask him to show you how it all works and you’re in for quite the tour! But the Zecher’s stick to the classics and only serve up Pure Vermont Maple Syrup – and what’s a trip to the sugar house without a little maple candy? Luckily if you keep on going up Mad Tom Rd into Mt.Tabor, you’ll find one of my favorite stops, Blow Hill Maple Products. A sugar house that specializes in cooking up all sorts of maple goodies! You can bag your own maple candy that’s practically at wholesale prices (as well as the best you’ve ever tasted), maple sugar for all your baking needs, and usually some fresh homemade baked goods and a cute little boy wandering around offering folks sugar on snow (Niki’s favorite nostalgic treat!).
LEARN ABOUT IT: If there’s anything you need to know about Maple, Merk Forest’s Sap House is the place to learn it! Their sugarbush is easily accessible by trails and they have educational programs throughout the year to covering the tapping season, sugaring season, and off season. If you want to fully immerse yourself, you can even spend the night in one of their cabins!
EAT IT: Really the reason everyone loves maple syrup, it tastes amazing in almost any kind of food! Chris and I both love the Maple Pork Tenderloin at Zoey’s Double Hex, The Raven’s Den makes their own Maple Balsamic dressing in house that is out of this world (and so is the salad bar!), and who could forget – Ye Olde Tavern’s famous Maple Butter! If you’re looking for something sweet – try a maple glazed donut from Mrs. Murphy’s or a pint of Wilcox’s Maple Walnut ice cream. We like maple around here so much that it’s even a standard coffee sweetener at Charlie’s Coffee House and I don’t think there’s a single breakfast joint in town that even serves the fake stuff (unless you count McDonalds, which I don’t). Just about every restaurant in town has some kind of maple centric dish, special, or drink so no matter where you go in Manchester this weekend – you’ll be sure to find maple on the menu!
DO IT YOURSELF: Though modern sugar houses have developed all sorts of technology and systems for producing syrup on a large scale, producing a little bit of your own at home is pretty simple with a little bit of patience & a sugar maple tree. When we lived on Cass Terrace we decided to tap the 3 maples we had on our little 1/4 acre parcel and see what came of it. We bought this metal tap & bucket kit, by Tap My Trees, who also writes a great guide to sugaring here. At the first sign of a warm winter day, Chris & I went outside with the drill and tapped those trees! Most trees can only take one or two taps but larger older trees can take 3.
We ended up tapping 3 trees with one tap each because we wanted to get a sense of what each tree would produce. Now all that was left to do was wait. We checked the buckets like we checked the mail, dumping their contents into a big canning pot every few days, keeping it cool by leaving it outside in our uninsulated mudroom, and once the pot was full it was time to boil down. We also decided to move one of the buckets from the smallest tree that was barely producing to the bigger tree that we were constantly emptying the bucket of halfway through the season.
Our preferred boil down method is to start early in the morning & outside, we clear the snow off the grill and leave the pot on the side burner on high – It’s gonna stay like that for 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally – so a great task for a warm spring day when you’ll be out and about in the yard doing spring cleanup. If an outdoor burner isn’t something you have you can make a fire pit but I really don’t recommend it indoors because it creates so much moisture it could peel your precious wallpaper! (something that actually happened at Chris’s house when he was a kid and his parents did it inside!)
Once the syrup has mostly reduced (level is below the bottom indent in the pot), we bring it inside to thicken as it requires more stirring and attention. Usually I’ll transfer it into a smaller pan and just boil it by feel but if you have a candy thermometer the temperature to thicken is 219 degrees farenheight. Once you’ve finished and let it cool, filter sediment through a coffee filter or cheese cloth and enjoy. You can refrigerate syrup for up to 2 months but I promise it won’t last that long! Our little stand of trees filled 3 canning pots of syrup over the season so we boiled down 3 times over the season, each time producing around a quart + 1 pint.
While I hope you enjoy this wonderful maple weekend in Vermont, for the first time we won’t be enjoying syrup. We’re headed to New York City for the Architectural Digest show – can’t wait to show you guys all the latest in architecture & interiors! We’d love to hear about YOUR favorite maple places in the comments and if you’re going to the show too – give us a shout – we’d love to see you! Happy Sugaring!