I have always found the process of maple sugaring fascinating! In fact, I just really like seeing how things are made in general; I love factories and tours and festivals of all kind! New England is famous for some great ones.
This weekend I took my children to a maple sugar farm in North Andover, MA (an easy 45 minute drive from Boston). It was a gem! Turtle Lane Maple Farm is family-run and free to the public. When you arrive you walk around the side of their house (when I said family-run did I mention they do it all out of their back yard, as a hobby?) to their sugar shack. There were about 30 people in our “tour” or demonstration, and it didn’t feel crowded at all.
Farmer Paul gives a great, animated explanation of each step of the maple sugaring process. Along the way you’ll sample many different items such as sap from the tree (Did you know it looks like water? It’s about 98% percent water 2% sugar at this point.), filtered sap, maple syrup, maple cream, maple candy, maple sugar, and maple bacon homemade ice cream! And it’s ALL delicious! I was particularly impressed by how well Farmer Paul kept the children engaged with his interesting yet easily understood descriptions and well executed transitions as we moved around the sugar shack to investigate the different equipment needed for each step of the process. Kudos to Farmer Paul for making his demonstration equally engaging for adults and children alike. You can also see a tapped maple tree with the sap dripping into the bucket just outside the door of the sugar shack. For the first time in my life I started dreaming about having a large sugar maple tree in my yard. There’s something so rewarding about the thought of walking into the yard, putting a tap in my tree and collecting maple sap that I could then boil into any variety of delicious treats. Sigh….city living isn’t really conducive to this dream so for now I am happy visiting fantastic farms like Turtle Lane Maple Farm to see all the action and taste their wares.
The tour/demonstration lasted about 45 minutes and at the end you can purchase any of their maple products but there was NO sales pressure whatsoever, which I appreciated. When all was said and done and the last morsels of maple delicacies ingested we walked back to our car for a quick picnic lunch before our next stop: dessert!
Remember that sample of homemade ice cream I mentioned above? After sampling all the farm’s yummy maple treats they also offer a sample of this salty sweet maple bacon ice cream made locally. They will give you a coupon to Mad Maggie’s Homemade Ice Cream shop that’s down the road a few miles if you are interested. We were definitely interested! Mad Maggie’s is a local homemade ice cream shop that uses the farm’s maple syrup for their seasonal maple bacon ice cream. Sounds crazy, but bacon paired with something sweet has really been popular in restaurants and recipes lately for foodies all over. The coupon is good for a free upgrade which simply put means if you order 1 scoop you get a second scoop for free! This works out to be about $3 for 2 scoops of really fantastic homemade ice cream. If you aren’t too excited about the maple bacon flavor, don’t worry! They have more then 31 flavors as well as gelato, frozen yogurt, shakes, sundaes, frappes, you name it. I can personally recommend the Candy Store Floor flavor (my son generously offered me a bite of his) which is a malt flavored ice cream with chunks of all sorts of chocolaty candy pieces. When they went to take my daughter’s order all she would say was, “Pink!”. I gave her the 3 options of pink ice cream but she didn’t care so I chose the one that sounded best to me and it was Black Raspberry Cookie, raspberry ice cream with chunks of Oreo cookies that add crunch and chocolate, it was a delicious combination! They also have a bunch of Girl Scout cookie ice cream flavors! I am a coconut lover so I ordered the Coconut Caramel Cookie, a coconut ice cream with swirls of caramel and chunks of the Caramel Delights/Samoas Girl Scout cookies. YUM!
Over all, we gave our day in North Andover two enthusiastic thumbs up! It’s always a treat to see the gorgeous countryside and snow covered hills, but visiting the farm was definitely the highlight and well worth the short 45 minute trip! It made for a perfect Saturday family outing checking off the fun, delicious and educational boxes simultaneously!
There are only two things you need to remember: 1) wear your rain or snow boots. They have the walkway back to the sugar shack plowed but the snow is melting making the paths muddy and slushy. Otherwise, you are inside the sugar shack for the tour/demonstration and it’s a quick walk from the street so no need to worry about any extra snow gear. And 2) maple sugaring has a short season. Last weekend was their first tapping and producing weekend, and after this weekend (March 9 and 10, 2013), there are only two more weekends left in the season! So don’t wait or you’ll miss out!