Blue Plate Special: The fifth generation at Williams Farm
Betty's Maple Pecan Squares
Alissa Williams makes Betty's Maple Pecan Squares at the Williams Farm Sugarhouse.
Sugaring season is Chip Williams’ favorite time of year. “After a long winter we’re finally getting outside. And things are starting to warm up a bit,” he told me in a recent interview.
At 34, Kenneth Williams IV, as he is formally named, represents the fifth generation to work in his family’s sugaring business, which was started by Milton Hubbard Williams in 1853. He runs Williams Farm Sugarhouse on Greenfield Street in Deerfield, along with his father Sandy, his mother Pam, his sisters Kelly and Casey, and his wife Alissa.
The Williams Farm Sugarhouse restaurant opened for the season this week and will be open for breakfast daily except Mondays (8 to 1 on weekdays and 8 to 3 on weekends) until mid-April.
“There’s a lot of tradition,” Williams said of the family business. The sugarhouse was first established on Mount Toby in Sunderland. It moved to Deerfield in 1994, when he was in middle school.
“When I was a kid I loved going with the guys to empty out the buckets,” he recalled.
“I loved hanging around the sugarhouse, too, with my dad and grandfather boiling. That was always fun. If I got into trouble, my punishment would be that I wasn’t allowed to go to the sugarhouse. That was the worst thing ever.”
One of his current jobs is one that his late great-uncle Milton Williams used to handle — making maple candy and maple cream in the sugarhouse. He appreciates remembering his uncle as he works. And as an adult he still enjoys the atmosphere in what he calls his “sugarhouse family.”
Mother Pam Williams is in charge of the kitchen, particularly the grill. “We’re trying to get someone else to take the reins,” said her son. “I want her to still come and help but not work so hard.”
He added with a smile, “She wants things done in a certain way. She knows if she’s doing it, it’s going to get done the way she wants.”
Alissa Williams works at her mother-in-law’s side in the kitchen, mixing batters and taking on any task that needs to be done. The kitchen isn’t large, she notes, but everyone knows what she is doing and has staked out a small area in the cooking space.
“We’re all pretty much pros by now,” she told me. “After a week I don’t even have to look at the recipe list anymore.”
Most of the helpers who come in to serve customers at the restaurant have worked there every season for years, adding to the family atmosphere. The sugarhouse is so much a part of the family that Chip and Alissa Williams held their wedding reception there last fall.
Both husband and wife agreed that weekends at the restaurant can get stressful as the lines get longer and longer. They insisted that despite the stress, they have fun — and added that their customers enjoy watching sap being boiled in the evaporator while waiting to be served.
“Obviously, it’s tiring,” said Chip Williams of the seasonal work. “But I’ve never had a point in my life when I wasn’t excited about doing it.”
The sugarhouse menu features hearty breakfasts that can include pancakes, Belgian waffles, French toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, doughnuts, or just toast with maple cream. Pam and Alissa Williams experiment with new recipes; they are excited about their new gluten-free pancake mix.
The Williams family was reluctant to share its secret pancake recipe. Instead, Alissa Williams reflected the sugarhouse’s family roots by preparing maple-pecan squares for The Recorder. The recipe came from Betty Williams, her husband’s great-aunt.
MAPLE PECAN SQUARES
e_SFlbfor the crust:
1½ cups flour
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter or margarine
for the filling:
2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup Williams Farm maple syrup
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the flour and 1/4 cup brown sugar into the butter, and press the resulting mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake this crust for 15 minutes.
While it is baking prepare the filling. Combine the brown sugar and the maple syrup in a small saucepan. Bring them to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the maple mixture slowly over the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Stir in the flour, salt, and vanilla. Pour this mixture over the baked crust, and sprinkle the nuts on top. Bake at 350 degrees until the bars are golden (20 to 30 minutes). Cool and cut into squares or bars. “Serve with ice cold milk,” says Alissa Williams. “These bars are sweet!”
Makes about 60 squares — but the yield will depend on how big you cut them.
Writer and singer Tinky Weisblat lives in Hawley. For more stories and recipes visit her blogs, In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens (www.ourgrandmotherskitchens.com) and What’s a Girl to Do? (www.tinkyweisblat.wordpress.com).