There’s no sweeter sign that spring is around the corner than the arrival of maple sugaring season. During this brief period, which lasts less than two months, sugar shacks tap their maple trees and start the process of transforming sap into syrup. And though Vermont might get all the fame when it comes to American maple syrup, they’re certainly not the only game in town.
Well over 100 sugarhouses exist in the state of Massachusetts, most of which are clustered in the mountainous region of the Berkshires. Whether you're a local or looking for a great getaway, there’s no better way to spend a weekend than getting a firsthand look (and taste) at how maple syrup is made.
Unlike more prominent maple syrup producing regions, there’s nothing commercial about the sugarshacks in Western Mass. These are small, family-run outfits that make you feel like you’re entering someone’s home. Some are working farms, and some even serve breakfast on weekends during peak season. What better way to sample the freshly made syrup than drizzled over a stack of pancakes or oversized Belgian waffle?
It can be hard to know where to start with so many sugar shacks around the region, but from my experience, there’s no bad ones to choose from. Let's begin at Pomeroy Sugar House in Westfield, which also doubles as a dairy farm. The fourth-generation maple syrup producers have a seasonal restaurant onsite, where diners can watch maple syrup being made from where they eat. In addition to the traditional breakfast food, which is the perfect conduit for warm syrup, there is maple candy, maple syrup, and even maple cream for purchase.
About 30 minutes north is the Red Bucket Sugar Shack in Worthington, which, along with Pomeroy, is a finalist for this year’s Best of Mass Sugarhouse title. A sugar maple tree, which they’ve lovingly dubbed “Tommy the Tree”, grows smack in the middle of the adjoining restaurant. In addition to the usual fare, they offer a weekly special pancake like banana bread, pumpkin, or carrot cake. Visitors can treat themselves to maple-flavored concoctions, like ice cream, doughnuts, chai, milkshakes, and cotton candy. Of course, bottled maple syrup is sold (and plenty of it), but be sure to grab some of their other homemade specialty items—from maple barbecue sauce to maple nuts and maple kettle corn.
Finally, if you’re in the northwestern part of the state—just across the border from Vermont, in fact—Gould’s Sugarhouse in Shelburne Falls is worth a stop. These sixth generation maple syrup producers attract a hardcore following of locals, who show up year after year to sample their pancakes, waffles, corn fritters, 25-cent maple soft serve ice cream, and—unexpectedly—Mrs. Gould’s dill pickles (they help offset all that sweetness).
Regardless of where you end up this season, be sure to take a moment to learn about the process of making maple syrup. (The wood-fired evaporators alone are worth a gander.) These places are more than businesses, but projects driven by passionate folk who are eager to share their knowledge—not to mention their liquid gold.
© 2016 AFAR Media