It’s a sweet New England tradition—toasting old man winter out the door with delicious new maple syrup. As soon as days are above freezing and the sap begins to run, the annual spring ritual begins.
Turning thin sap into thick, fragrant syrup is a fascinating process and Western Connecticut, where sugar maple trees abound, is one of the best places to see it in action. More than a dozen sugar houses in Fairfield County and the Litchfield Hills invite visitors to see how it is done, from tapping the maple trees to collecting the sap to boiling down the thin watery sap until it turns to the thick, fragrant syrup.
A variety of settings, from farms and nature centers to museums are among the maple possibilities, most offering tastes as well as show and tell, and many have take-home syrup for purchase as a sweet souvenir. While many sugarhouses invite visitors anytime during the first three weekends in March (see list below), some locations plan one festive day to celebrate the season.
To kick off the Maple Sugaring season, the Greenwich Land Trust is hosting a Sugar Maple Winter Walk on February 25 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at Duck Pond Hill on 12 Burning Tree Rd in Greenwich. Participants will learn what what wildlife does during the winter to survive and how to identify trees without their leaves. The highlight of this event is to watch a maple tapping and syrup boiling demonstration to learn what goes into making the sweet stuff! Walking conditions may be a bit tricky because the walk will be on uneven terrain. Refreshments will be served. For more information visit www.gltrust.org.
March Maple Events
The Stamford Museum & Nature Centers starts the month in gala fashion with its annual Maple Sugar Festival slated for March 1 and 2 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Every year, the Museum places buckets on more than 200 maple trees on its 118-acre site, collecting sap to produce maple syrup in the little red sugarhouse on its Heckscher Farm. Visitors will see firsthand the process of tapping and collecting the sap. Kids can make a maple-themed craft, go on a scavenger hunt, have their face painted and join in the fun on Saturday for the Chef’s Challenge, using maple syrup to make delicious treats. On Sunday everyone can join in the popular pancake brunch. www.stamfordmuseum.org
The Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington will have a different take on sugaring at its annual Pancake Festival on March 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.. Demonstrations will show how local Native Americans traditionally made maple syrup and its importance to their culture. Pancakes will be served with local maple syrup and there will be special activities for children. www.iaismuseum.org
Pancakes are also on the menu on March 2nd from 8 a.m. to noon at the annual breakfast at Flanders Nature Center Sugar House at Van Vleck Farm Sanctuary in Woodbury. Staff and volunteers also will conduct demonstrations at the busy center March 1 and 2, 8 and 9 and 15 and 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. www.flandersnaturecenter.org
For those who can’t make the first weekend, March offers many other special events. The Sixth Annual Maple Festival at Sweet Wind Farm takes place in East Hartland on March 8. The busy day will include tree tapping, maple syrup and maple sugar making demonstrations with free syrup samples, a narrated slide show and video, cooking class, story time for kids, and --almost everyone’s favorite activity-- a sugar-on-snow candy making demonstration. www.sweetwindfarm.net
Another March 8 event is the annual Open House at the Great Brook Sugar House on Sullivan Farm in New Milford, one of the programs provided for the community’s young people by the New Milford Youth Agency. Some 1600 trees are tapped on property donated by local residents. Dozens of high school and college students assist in the collection, processing, packaging and sales of the syrup. At the Open House guides will escort visitors around the farm to various sites to see demonstrations reflecting a 300-year history of maple sugaring. Syrup and other maple products will be available for purchase. Everyone is invited to visit the Sugar House anytime smoke from the chimney says that the syrup kettles are a-cooking.
Syrup Saturday at the New Canaan Nature Center on March 15 from ll a.m. to 3 p.m. is always a festive day. Events include tree-tapping demos, a maple sap boil down at the Sugar Shack, and a look at historic methods of making maple syrup plus a delicious Pancake Brunch. Visitors are invited to join naturalists for a hike along "Maple Lane" to learn tree identification tips, then warm up around the campfire to share tall tales, and make a Maple craft to take home. www.newcanaannature.org
March 15 is also the date of the annual Maplefest! at the Sharon Audubon Center. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. guided tours will show how maple syrup is produced at the Center and samples of fresh syrup will be handed out to guests. www.sharon.audubon.org
Visit Any Weekend
The sugaring season starts early at large facilities like Lamothe’s Sugar House in Burlington, where the public is invited to see how syrup is made every weekend from February 15 to the end of March. This family owned operation began as a hobby with seven taps and has grown to over 4500 taps and a year-round showroom. Their shop offers a tempting array of unusual foods like maple mustard and maple apple butter plus original maple-themed items from embroidered aprons, decorating sets, and cupcake shaped rubber spatulas to a cupcake carrier in the shape of a big cupcake. www.Lamothesugarhouse.com
The following sugarhouse locations all welcome visitors the first three weekends in March, and some, like Lamothe’s begin in February as well. Weather can alter schedules, so a call ahead is absolutely necessary to verify openings, hours and directions before making a trip.
Anstett’s Sugar Farm, 542 East Greenwoods Rd., Norfolk, 860-542-5013 www.anstettsmaplesyrup.com
Brookside Farm, 79 East Chestnut Road, Litchfield, 860-567-3805, mid-February-March
Brothers and Sons Sugarhouse, 998 Saw Mill Road, Torrington, 860-489-2719, mid-February-March
Dutton’s Sugarhouse, 28 Sunny Ridge Road, Washington, 860-0345, mid-February- March
Flanders Nature Center Maple Sugar House, Church Hill Rd., Woodbury, 203-263-3711, www.flandersnaturecenter.org
Great Brook Sugarhouse at Sullivan Farm, 140 Park Lane (Route 202), New Milford, 860-210-2030, mid-February-March, www.youthagency.org
Hilljack Sugar Shack, 74 Wilson Rd., Litchfield, 860-482-6052.
Institute for American Indian Studies, 38 Curtis Rd., Washington, 860-868-0518. www.iaismuseum.org
Kasulaitis Farm and Sugarhouse, 69 Goose Green Road, Barkhamsted, 860-379-8787, mid-February-March
Land of Nod Vineyard and Winery, 99 Lower Rd., East Canaan, 860-824-5225, www.landofnodwinery.com
Lamothe’s Sugar House, 89 Stone Road, Burlington, 860-675-5043,mid-February-March. www.Lamothesugarhouse.com
McLaughlin Vineyards, Albert’s Hill Rd., Sandy Hook, 203-426-1533
New Canaan Nature Center, 144 Oenoke Ridge Rd., New Canaan, 203 – 966-9577, www.newcanaannature.org.
Sharon Audubon, 325 Cornwall Bridge Rd., Sharon, 860-364-0520, www.sharon.audubon.org
Stamford Museum and Nature Center, 39 Scofieldtown Rd., Stamford, 203-322-1646.
Sweetwind Farm, 339 South Rd., East Hartland, 860-653-2038, www.sharon.audubon.org
Three Pond Meadow Farm, 240 Ramstein Rd., New Hartford,
Warrup’s Farm, John Reed Road off Route 107, Redding, 203- 938-9403, www.warrupsfarm.com
West Hill Sugarhouse, 525 West Hill Road, New Hartford, 860-379-9672
Woodbury Sugarshed, 41 Washington Road, Woodbury, 203-263-4550, mid-February-March, www.woodburysugarshed.com