Sugar House Diaries: Maple Syrup Time in Western Mass

Maple syrup time is a high point in the cycle of all things Western Massachusetts, right up there with fair season.

Forget Puxatawny Phil. The appearance of buckets on trees and steam billowing from shacks is a sure sign of the impending spring. Breakfasting at a sugar house is an acknowledgement that the snow on ground won’t be there much longer, that the daffodils will poke out soon, that Hadley Grass is coming in a few months.

This is our third sugaring season in Northampton, which is advantageously positioned:

Massachusetts Sugar Houses

Massachusetts Sugar Houses

Chester, MA

Two weeks after we moved to Northampton, Type E’s parents came to visit, and we took a gorgeous ride out to Chester, MA for the annual Maple Fest. First, you eat pancakes  in the church basement, and then a tractor takes you to Jameson’s sugar house, where you can witness the making of syrup. Our tractor got a flat tire, but we still arrived in time to see some boiling action.

Boiling at Jameson's

Boiling at Jameson’s

Red Bucket Sugar Shack

Last year, in 2012, we hit two sugar houses for breakfast. First, the Red Bucket Sugar Shack, down a dirt road in Worthington. You’re greeted with a blast of steam and a heavenly, sweet smell upon entering. After peeking into the vat of syrup-in-progress, you find a spot at the picnic tables in the next room and enjoy the view of the maple lines.

Red Bucket Lines

Red Bucket Lines

Best thing about Red Bucket: pancake innovation. The special that day was pistachio pancakes, but rumor has it that their carrot cake pancakes are to die for.

Gould’s

Gould’s Sugarhouse is an institution. It’s big, easy-to-find, and people come from all over. Everyone warned us about the lines, but veterans of Honey’s Sit ‘n Eat are not deterred by a pancake line. Oh no. Gould’s is definitely on the “less shacky” side of the sugar house spectrum–they even have real placemats and silverware.

Pickles at Gould's

Pickles at Gould’s

Notice the pickles, which act as a sour counterpart to the sweet syrup.

Best thing about Gould’s: pickles!

South Face Farm

This year, on the first Sunday of March, I dragged Type E out of bed, and we drove to Ashfield to try South Face Farm. As we drove out of Northampton and into the hills, the snow started to fall, providing a fresh coat on top of February’s massive deposit. We were lucky enough to be seated by the window, sharing a table with a family of very sticky kids. A perfect morning is watching the snow come down while you’re warm, cozy, and full of corn fritters at South Face Farm.

South Face Farm

South Face Farm

Best thing about South Face Farm: the maple donuts. Oh my. Cider donuts don’t hold a candle to these babies.

Steve’s Sugar Shack

A few weeks and a few more fresh coats of snow later, we found ourselves at Steve’s Sugar Shack in Westhampton.

Buckets at Steve's

Buckets at Steve’s

Steve’s is a huge, open room, with a raised area where they do the boiling. The tables are crowded together, but the high ceiling and wall of windows make it feel spacious. We squeezed in next to some friendly locals, who immediately outed us as noobs and teased us for ordering too many pancakes. The blueberry pancakes are worth the extra dollar, and Type E has declared Steve’s the winner of his “best bacon” award.

Steve's Sugar Shack

Steve’s Sugar Shack

Best thing about Steve’s: the people and the communal vibe.

Davenport Farm and Sugar House

Off the Mohawk Trail, “behind” Gould’s is Davenport Farm and Sugar House. It looks like a shack, but it operates like a restaurant: real silverware, coffee served in ceramic instead of styrofoam, and even a lunch menu. But who goes to a sugar house for a hamburger?

We got the table for two that overlooks the evaporator and were soon digging into eggs and fresh toast. At Davenport your syrup comes in a small bottle that you get to take home:

Davenport Breakfast

Davenport Breakfast

Opting to have maple cream with your toast is 75 cents well-spent. Once you’ve sucked every last bit of the cream from its paper container, it’s time to pay the bill and visit the boiling area and gift shop. The maker-of-syrup (boilmaster?) was extremely friendly and didn’t seem to mind answering the same five questions over and over as people wandered through while waiting for a table upstairs.

Boiling at Davenport

Boiling at Davenport

Best thing about Davenports: the knowledgeable farmers and this excellent real-life data visualization of maple syrup seasons through the years:

Syrup Through the Years

Syrup Through the Years

March is the beginning of a new season, and a time to disobey your acupuncturist, nutritional counselor, and yoga instructor by ingesting sugar, carbs, and gluten. My personal motto: if it comes from a tree, it’s for me.

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