The sweetest side of Vermont is its maple syrup and sugar production . There are sugar farms, sugar houses and sugar shacks throughout the state. Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the US which is about 5% of the world's supply. People like maple. Heck, it's the official symbol of Canada.
We stopped at several sugar farms, big and small, and each offered something a bit different. Sometimes we were invited to see a film about syrup-making, view old photos or perhaps walk through a sugar house or a stand of sugar maple trees, locally known as sugarbush. Most are family operated and have been for generations. There are good stories to tell.
Other times, we tasted several grades of syrup from Fancy AA to B. The grades are based on the syrup's amber color … the lighter the color, the milder the taste, the higher the grade. Actually, I really like intense maple flavor, so I was quite happy with the darker amber colors. David passed on the sampling altogether (obviously not a native New Englander). There are actually stringent “Maple Laws” in effect in Vermont which require that even McDonald's offers real maple syrup with their breakfasts. No maple-flavored breakfast syrups here.
Early colonial settlers learned about syrup-making from their local Native American neighbors. Legend has it that a chief threw a tomahawk at the maple tree and it “bled”. When his wife collected the running sap and cooked venison it it, it rendered a sweet result and thus sap collecting and syruping began. Cheaper than molasses and readily available, maple syrup became the standard sweetener for early natives and immigrants alike.
About 40 gallons of sugar sap is boiled down to make one gallon of pure maple syrup. The going price is $45-50/gallon. They can only collect sap for about six weeks in the late winter and early spring, so the season is short and intense.
Many dairy farmers use syrup-making to augment their incomes. The farm stores usually offer cheese as well as maple products which makes it wonderful tasting experience.
“Sugar on snow” is a traditional activity during the syrup-making time. Maple syrup is drizzled on fresh snow for a delightful treat. Our timing was off for a sample of sugar on snow, but it didn't stop us from trying other samples of maple-y delights. I picked up lots of new recipes.
We even visited a Maple Syrup Museum to learn about and view all things maple. A bit hokey, but a sweet experience nonetheless.
I did have my fill of pancakes with real maple syrup before I left the state … and I'll be regretting it with each pound I have to lose next week.