Sugar Season in Western MA
As the winter days become warmer, plants and animals begin to prepare for springtime to come. And what’s one of the first (and possibly the most delicious) signs of spring here in western Massachusetts? Maple sugaring season, of course!
Sugaring season has been a New England tradition since practically forever. It was written about by English settlers as early as the mid-1600’s, and was a Native American harvest long before any Europeans set foot in North America. The history of this annual sap-harvesting tradition can’t really be boiled down to any specific time period or group of people, but it has nevertheless been done year after year for countless generations.
Today, a popular sugar season tradition for families in western Massachusetts is visiting a nearby sugar shack. There are sugar shacks to visit all over the region , and a great many of these can pair the experience of watching fresh maple sap be boiled down into a thick syrup with a homemade stack of maple syrup-covered pancakes. Many sugarhouses offer informative tours of their facilities, demonstrating their process of tapping, collecting, boiling, and bottling their syrup. In addition to learning about the sugaring process, a visit to a sugar shack can also be a lesson in local history and community resilience – many local sugar houses have been owned and operated by the same families for a few generations, making sugaring an important part of the local economy as well as a strong link between local families and their physical surroundings…
If sugaring is something that your family is particularly interested in trying and you’ve got a yard full of maples, try it out for yourself at home! With the right supplies, sugaring can be a fun and fairly easy family activity. Kids will get to practice math and science skills while selecting trees to tap – first, they’ll need to identify the proper species, and then they’ll need to determine the diameter of the tree at a specific height. Lots of careful observation, use of tools, and recording of data will need to be done! Then, while you wait for the sap to collect, kids can track the amount that fills the bucket each day. Older students might even be able to figure out the percentage by which the volume of the sap decreases after it has been boiled down into syrup!
Of course, no seasonal tradition is complete without a soundtrack, so fill your speakers at home or in the car with the sounds of an archived episode of the Hilltown Families Variety Show – it’s maple (and sheep shearing) themed!
This year’s maple sugaring season could begin by the end of the month, so be prepared! Several sugar shacks have already started to serve breakfast on the weekends! The annual Massachusetts Maple Weekend will be held on March 22nd and 23rd, bringing special events, tours, and activities to sugarhouses and restaurants across the state. Look for scheduled events and celebrations as the event draws nearer!
In the meantime, look for community pancake breakfasts happening in your region, like the Northfield Fire Department Annual Pancake Breakfast on February 23rd from 7:30-10:30am at the Northfield Elementary School and the Buckland Public Library Annual Maple Breakfast on March 22nd in the Mary Lyon Church basement. Other events to mark on your calendar include the 29th Annual Maple Fest on Chester Hill in Chester, MA on Saturday, March 15th, and Old Sturbridge Village’s Maple Days happening ever weekend in March. Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events each week for more community events, intergenerational breakfasts and educational opportunities.