Learning Ahead: Early Spring is Sugar Season

March is Sugar Season

It’s March. The light is changing, the days are getting longer, and the ground slowly begins to thaw. As spring rounds the corner, March becomes the month of gathering and beginning, of re-emergence and sharing. Early in the month it might feel like winter outside, but rest assured that spring is stirring underneath blankets of snow. March is sugaring season.

While April and May showcase new life in full force, March is a transitional time of year when we are reminded strongly of New England’s cycles. As the temperatures rise during the day and cool down to freezing at night, sap begins to flow through the sapwood of the sugar maples. These native trees are tapped during this time of temperature fluctuation to capture their sap that will eventually be boiled down into delicious sweet maple syrup – ah yes, liquid gold!
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Maple Syrup: Native American Traditions & New England History

New England Traditions: Maple Sugaring & Local History

Before the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans were already tapping sugar maples and processing maple sugar in the early 1600’s. Early Native Americans would move their whole families to a location in the woods where there were plenty of sugar maples to tap. They would set up a sugar camp and create V-shaped slashes in the tree as a method to collect the sap. Since they did not yet have metal pots for boiling, the collected sap was placed in a wooden vessel and hot rocks were added to help boil away the water to create a syrupy consistency.

The Native Americans in New England used maple syrup to make grain sugar, cake sugar, and wax sugar. Grain sugar is similar to what we now refer to as brown sugar. Cake sugar was in block form, shaped by pouring the syrup into molds and allowing it to harden. This made it easier to store. Finally, wax sugar is what we know as sugar on snow. It’s the pouring of maple syrup heated to high temperatures on the snow to create a taffy-like consistency to enjoy.  Read the rest of this entry »

Living History Museums During Sugar Season

Living History Museums During Sugar Season

In Western Massachusetts, living history museums celebrate local history and early American living through maple sugaring demonstrations that recall the techniques, foods, and traditions connected to the sugaring season. Families can experience what maple sugaring was like in the days of old New England at living history events where museum interpreters dressed in period clothing demonstrate life and skills from Colonial New England, including: tree tapping, sumac spile making, sap boiling over a fire, open hearth cooking, and other early American skills.  Read the rest of this entry »

Sugar Shacks & Shared Meals Support Connections & Culture

Sharing Food & Culture: Community Meals & Celebrations

Sugar Shacks

Sugar shacks are small cabins where maple sap is gathered and boiled down to syrup. Tours of sugar shacks are primary-source opportunities to learn about local history, New England culture, local economy and technology. These community resources are not only producers of maple syrup but also turn into bustling kitchens and community eating spaces for neighbors, families and friends to gather and share a pancake breakfast together in honor of the sugaring season! Eating a pancake breakfast at a local sugar shack is a true community experience! Since most sugar shacks are not year-round eating establishments, they convert their existing spaces into eateries with large communal tables. Even though you may have to wait a little bit to be seated, it’s such a fun way to meet new neighbors and learn about the sugaring process!  Read the rest of this entry »

Art & Literature of Seasonal Living: The Maple Tree

The Inspiring Maple Tree:
The Art & Literature of Seasonal Living

Robert Strong Woodward

Western Massachusetts landscape painter, Robert Strong Woodward (1885-1957) was born in Northampton, MA and settled in Buckland where he painted along with a studio in Heath where he produced many works. Woodward was a landscape painter mostly depicting the rural countryside and living that surrounded him. One of the themes he explored is the sugaring season.

You can view Woodward’s works at the website run by the nonprofit Friends of Woodward.

One painting in particular, Late Sugaring, shows maple trees with red tapping buckets along Route 112 in Buckland. Painted in 1934, this image is a typical New England scene that one can still witness driving along the same road in the Hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. This beautiful region, largely unchanged throughout the decades, still offers that majestic New England experience that Woodward captures in this painting. An online gallery of Woodward’s sugaring paintings is also found at Friends of Woodward’s web site. Peruse the gallery before heading over to a local sugar shack this season for breakfast and arrive curious. What has changed over the years? What is the same?  Read the rest of this entry »

Early Spring Food Tradition: Pancakes & Maple Syrup

Living Seasonally & Cooking Seasonally:
Pancakes & Maple Syrup

Did you know that pancakes are over 6,000 years old? Although not in the present form we know today, the predecessors to the modern pancake consisted of ground wheat cooked in a form of a pancake. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans ate a form of pancake sweetened with honey! Later in history, American colonists ate pancakes also known as Johnny Cakes.

Modern day technology and contemporary recipes have added to our cultural repertoire of recipes. Take for instance this demonstration on how to make maple cream:

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