The Berkshires Massachusetts
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Maple Sugar

As winter loosens its tenacious grip on the Berkshires, ice begins to melt, flowers peek from snowy ridges, milder days stretch on into the evening, and the sap begins to run. Immortalized in folk paintings by Grandma Moses, maple sugaring brings back memories of childhood and heralds the beginnings of spring.

People have been harvesting this bounty of winter for generations, ever since pioneers were first introduced to maple syrup by Native Americans, who collected sap in hollowed out logs and steamed away the water with hot stones. Freezing nights and warm days are required to create the thick, sweet liquid that eventually becomes maple syrup, and the milder temperatures of spring are the ideal conditions for maple syrup. Maples are tapped at 40 years of age, and properly cared for trees can yield their delicious harvest for 100 years or more.

Some farms still choose the traditional route, using quaint metal buckets and spikes to collect the sap. Others have gone high tech, opting for networks of tubing that take the sap to collecting vats or, in more elaborate operations, pump the sap directly to the sugarhouse. The modern evaporator, with its wood or oil fire, gives the farmer more control over the production. The thin sap is boiled until it coalesces into the rich, thick, golden maple syrup. The process is extensive and time consuming: It takes approximately 32 - 34 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, and the boiling time is 12 - 15 gallons per hour.

Adults and children alike delight in watching the process. Take a drive past rows of stately maples and observe how the farmers tap their trees. Then stop by the sugarhouse for an up-close view of sap being boiled down into pure maple syrup.

No visit would be complete without indulging yourself in the rich, amber syrup. Many of the farmers in this neck of the woods offer a sugarhouse meal of steaming pancakes swimming in freshly-made hot maple syrup. A totally natural product, maple syrup is surprisingly nutritious! Each ¼ cup contains 7% calcium and 1% potassium, no fat or cholesterol, and has only eight milligrams of sodium. Calories, yes—200 per ¼ cup, but you really don’t need that much on fresh pancakes to enjoy this tasty treat!

Most of the sugarhouses are within an hour’s drive of each other, so it’s easy to visit more than one in a day. Country inns and bed & breakfasts are often located nearby—so why not make a weekend of it? Many area sugarhouses welcome visitors to learn firsthand about this process and to take home a taste of the Berkshires. For area sugarhouses, call the Massachusetts Maple Producers Hotline at 413-628-3912.

Enjoy variations on this delicious regional treat with the following recipes:

MAPLE BRAN MUFFINS

Ingredients:

3/4 cup natural wheat bran

1-1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup milk

3 tsp. baking powder

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg slightly beaten

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup oil

Glaze:

1 tbs. butter

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1 tbs. maple syrup

 

Combine bran, milk and maple syrup. Mix in egg and oil. Combine remaining muffin ingredients. Add bran mixture stirring until just moistened. Divide the batter into 12 greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes. Glaze: combine ingredients, stirring to blend, and spread over warm muffins.


MICROWAVE MAPLE PUDDING

Ingredients:

2 cups maple syrup

1 egg

1 cup milk

3 tsp. heaping cornstarch

 

Mix syrup and egg together well. Dissolve cornstarch in milk. Mix together well and put it in a microwave bowl. Cook ten minutes, press memory 1 select heat 8, stirring every three minutes.

 

OATMEAL MAPLE COOKIES

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Crisco

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup milk

2 tsp. baking powder

1 egg, beaten

Add above ingredients together and mix well.

1 1/2 cups oatmeal

1/2 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup raisins

 

Mix into the first ingredients. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for ten minutes. Cool on rack. Makes two dozen.

 

Maple Syrup Shortbreads

Ingredients:

½ cup sweet butter

1 tablespoon sweet butter

¼ cup white sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup maple sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter baking dish. Combine ½ cup butter and white sugar until fluffy. Blend in flour. Pat shortbread into dish and bake until light brown, 20-25 minutes.

 

Blend brown sugar, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of butter. Add in vanilla and blend well. Pour over shortbread and sprinkle with walnuts. Let cool for about 25 minutes, then cut into squares.

 

Cornbread with Maple Syrup

Ingredients:

1 1/8 cup corn meal

1 1/8 cup wheat flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup maple syrup

1 beaten egg

1 cup milk

3 tablespoons shortening

 

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Mix shortening and syrup. Add all other ingredients then pour into greased pan. Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool and then cut into squares.

 

Maple Syrup Souffle

Ingredients:

½ cup powdered sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup maple syrup

4 egg whites, beaten to peaks

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fold sugar and baking powder into beaten egg whites. Fold syrup in gently.

Pour mixture into greased soufflé dish and bake for 30 minutes. Serve right away.