Slow sugaring season doesn’t slow appetite for maple products
Carol and Nathan Foote feed fried dough covered in maple cream to their 1½-year-old son Gus at Hager’s Farm Market Maple Day on Saturday in Shelburne. The Foote family, including daughter Lydia, 7, live just over the hill from the market and had been looking forward to the tasty treats.
Jason Quinn, 9, and his friend Everett Allen, 7, collect maple sap from trees along Main Street in Northfield on Saturday for boiling at the Quinn family sugarhouse on Sunday. Stacy Quinn, Jason's mother, said her sons' friends are often invited to tag along on the family outing and always seem to enjoy it.
Lydia Foote, 7, enjoys fried dough coated with maple cream at Hager's Farm Market in Shelburne on Saturday.
SHELBURNE — Maple sugaring season is slowly getting under way, in no small part due to a winter that refuses to end.
“Usually we’re in full swing by now,” Linda Gould of Gould’s Sugarhouse said Saturday. “Today is only our fifth day of boiling.”
Though the Goulds tapped their trees weeks ago, they’ve only been able to collect sap on seven days.
The sap may be slow to run this year, but Gould said it’s producing a good yield, with 40 gallons of sap used for each gallon of syrup.
“Last year was wonderful,” she said. “It was a terrific, fancy syrup season, and we were able to start early.”
While this may be an off-season for syrup, visitors were still impressed.
“This is all pretty amazing,” said Gerry Hilera. “It’s interesting. I’ve had maple syrup before, but I’d never seen the process. It’s very rustic.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Hilera has lived in Los Angeles, Calif., for years, and hadn’t seen a New England syrup operation like Gould’s wood-fired boil until he stopped by for lunch with his girlfriend Saturday.
The sugarhouse was busy indeed. Many visitors had to wait more than an hour for a table.
Down the Mohawk Trail, Hager’s Farm Market celebrated “Maple Day,” with maple candy demonstrations, an old-fashioned sap boil, and, of course, their trademark maple cream fried dough.
Though Maple Day was a hit, with cars filling the lot and spilling onto the roadside, Chip Hager wasn’t so sure about this year’s sugaring season.
“We still could have some nice sugaring weather,” he said. “Or it could turn to summer any day.”
Sap runs best when the nights get into the low 20s, and temperatures rise into the 40s during the day. During those low overnight temperatures, Hager said, maple sap retreats to the roots. When temperatures warm up during the day, the sap runs up the trees to nourish the leaves and buds.
“That’s when we catch it — on the way up,” he said.
The sap ran well Saturday, as the chilly night gave way to a 50-degree day, but those conditions weren’t expected to last. The forecast called for lows below 20 to start the week, finally hitting a high of 40 Thursday before a weekend of 50-degree weather.
Though sugaring has started as early as February in the past few years, the mid-March start this year is more typical.
That’s the way it was when Hager’s father tapped his first tree.
“My father started with this kettle, when he was in grammar school,” he said, as he stood next to a cast-iron vessel hanging over a fire pit. “That was back in the early 1920s.”
The Hagers have expanded by leaps and bounds since then.
“At the farm in Colrain, we have about 6,000 taps, and produce about 2,500 gallons of syrup each year,” Hager said.
Their new evaporators allow them to put out 35 gallons of syrup every hour they boil — as long as there’s enough sap to feed the machine.
“So far, we’ve only made 250 gallons this year,” he said. “We’ve had years we’ve made a lot of syrup after March 20, though.”
Whether or not the Hagers reach their 2,500 gallon goal will depend on the whim of the weather.
You can reach David Rainville at: Drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279