Maple season underway
The Recorder, March 6, 20201. By ZACK DeLUCA, Staff Writer
As the days get warmer, maple syrup producers across the county and state are gearing up for Massachusetts Maple Month, with some local sugarhouses completing their first boil of the season this past weekend.
According to the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, conditions this season have seen the weather remaining cold through February, the thaw happening gradually, and a blanket of snow in the woods helps moderate any sudden fluctuations that could otherwise cause the season to end early.
Dana Goodfield, owner of Stonegate Farm Sugarhouse in Conway, said the season is off to a slow start compared to last year. In 2020, the farm’s first boil was Jan. 31. By comparison, he only boiled for the first time this past weekend. He said the trees were tapped, but the weather didn’t cooperate for an early yield.
“Normally we’ll get two or three good runs in February, but we didn’t get that this year,” Goodfield said. “The question now is, is the season going to last longer?”
He said if the weather warms up quickly, and doesn’t stay cold through the first half of March, it could be a “fast and furious” yield for himself and his “exceptional team” of fellow sugarers. Of course, the weather can be difficult to predict.
After retiring from the automotive business, Goodfield built Stonegate Farm’s sugarhouse across the street from his home on Bardwells Ferry Road about 13 years ago. Goodfield said most of his syrup is sold through accounts with restaurants, and to other, larger sugarmakers to supplement their retail markets.
Goodfield said he is optimistic Stonegate Farm Sugarhouse will see decent business as restaurants are preparing to open with less restrictions later this month. If the market doesn’t pick up, he said that, fortunately, “syrup doesn’t spoil” and can be stored properly in sealed stainless steel drums for extended periods. Howard Boyden, president of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association and co-owner of Boyden Brothers Maple in Conway, said he boiled about 141 gallons of sap already this year, which equates to about one-tenth of his crop, and he is happy with how things have started out. However, he said that’s not always an indicator of the rest of the sugaring season.
“As far as predicting how the season goes, I always say, ‘Ask me in April,’” he joked.
Boyden said the cold blast and high winds last week set things back, both because the cold stopped the sap from running and because of damage to trees and tap lines from falling limbs. He said things were quickly cleaned up and ready to go again, but a week with extended cold is hard to combat and could impact the year’s syrup yield.
“It’s one week you’re not making syrup within the fourweek season window,” he said.
In a typical year, Boyden Brothers Maple produces about 1,000 gallons of syrup. He said the business supplies places like Food City in Turners Falls, Pekarski’s Sausage in South Deerfield, Apex Orchards in Shelburne Falls, Baker’s Country Store in Conway and more, with products.
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking off this time last year, Boyden said Boyden Brothers Maple was making syrup, but nobody was coming into the store. He said the business is fortunate to be supported through outlet sales.
Boyden Brothers Maple is open for visitors Saturdays and Sundays in March from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the sugarhouse, 642 South Deerfield Road in Conway, with regulations in place. Boyden said the sugarhouse has good space, but customers are required to wear a mask and keep appropriate distance if they stop in to watch the boiling process.
Sugaring season in Franklin County typically starts in February, when nights are still cold, but days are warming up. It typically ends around mid-April — some years earlier, some later. The entire month of March is usually the peak of maple sugaring season, earning the distinction of being Massachusetts Maple Month, though some sugarhouses are open for sales year-round.
A directory to search for local sugarhouses can be found at massmaple.org/buy-maplesyr up/directory.
Maple syrup has been produced in Massachusetts for hundreds of years, and the process mostly remains the same. Sap from sugar maple trees is collected and boiled down to an exact consistency for use as a versatile sweetener and ingredient for baking, sauces, marinades, dressings and even cocktails.
The annual Maple Weekend will be held March 20 and March 21, when participating sugarhouses around the state will open to visitors who want to see syrup being made, learn about the process and history of maple production, and sample and purchase syrup. Masks and social distancing will be required at all participating sites, and it is recommended to call ahead before visiting.
While Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant at 111 Tower Road in Shelburne will be open March 6 through March 28, weekends only, some of Franklin County’s other restaurants serving maple products have announced they will not open this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Williams Farm Sugarhouse, at 491 Greenfield Road in Deerfield, announced via Facebook its decision not to open the restaurant this sugaring season due to the current health safety restrictions.
“This will be our first season since our move to Deerfield in 1994 that we won’t be serving up fluffy buttermilk pancakes,” the Facebook announcement reads.
While the restaurant is closed, Williams Farm Sugarhouse had its first boil of the season last weekend, and it will be open strictly for the sale of maple products on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Gould’s Maple Sugarhouse at 570 Mohawk Trail in Shelburne also took to its Facebook page in early February to announce that “unfortunately because of COVID restrictions still in place” the family-run sugarhouse will not be open at all for the 2021 sugaring season. Gould’s had announced last February, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that it would not open for the 2020 season either, marking the first time in 60 years it did not open.
Representatives from the Gould’s and Williams Farm sugarhouses could not be reached for further comment.
Davenport Maple Farm Restaurant will offer dine-in and takeout meals on Saturdays and Sundays this month from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Maple products are also available for pick-up during the week by calling the restaurant at 413-625-2866. Zack DeLuca can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4569.