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Archive for the ‘Sugaring Season Special’ Category

Well, I think this is the end of sugaring season for me. There might be a few sugar shacks that’ll be open for another week or so, but I’ve gone to one every weekend for six weeks straight, and that’s a lot of pancakes for one girl to eat, and I don’t think anyone is boiling anymore anyway. The final sugarhouse we hit up this year was Gould’s, which is right on the Mohawk Trail in Shelburne. It’s really popular and probably the best-known sugarhouse in the region.

The wait was over an hour, and our morale fell with our blood sugar while we waited. The waiting area is a kind of kitschy little gift shop, and the parking lot was full of Connecticut and New York plates, so the whole thing had a touristy feel to it. Sort of like a very tiny Yankee Candle. They weren’t boiling anymore, since it’s so late in the season, so maybe I would have had a different feeling if we could have gone in and checked out their evaporator.

But the restaurant itself is a really pleasant place to be, once you make it in there- big windows with a nice view, lovely handhewn beams, and the sweetest little old lady ever (Mrs. Gould herself, I think). Unfortunately for us, by the time we actually made it to the restaurant we were all so hungry that we gobbled down our meal in 10 seconds and we’d been there for so long that we were ready to bolt. The pancakes that I got, though, were probably the best sugarhouse pancakes I’ve had all year. Fluffy and delicious.

My feeling was that they have carved out a niche that works really well for them, they draw a lot of people from all over the region, and they’re definitely taking advantage of their wonderful location. Great! But for me, I think I’ll stick to places that are a little more off the beaten path. People from Connecticut can take a much-needed break from needlessly tailgating their way up 91, tighten the skis affixed to the roofs of their SUVs, and eat some delicious pancakes there. I’ll be elsewhere.

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Sugaring season is coming to a close. This is sad news, because I won’t be able to spend my Sunday mornings inhaling sugar steam and eagerly snapping dweeby pictures of evaporators and old taps. The end of sugaring season is also something to celebrate, because it means that spring is really and truly afoot. That’s basically the whole point, and the whole rub, of eating seasonally- something is always ending, which is sad, but it always means that something else is on its way. And when that something is summer, it’s hard to be too broken up about it.

So! This was the last weekend that the Red Bucket in Worthington was open for breakfast, and the place had been recommended to me by someone who knows what’s what when it comes to sugar, so I went. Turns out Worthington is actually really far away from Northampton.

When you walk in, there’s a little store and they’re boiling the sap right there, so you can check out their evaporator, which was kind of neat and also kind of like being in a steamy little cave because of all the condensation on the walls.

The restaurant is in the next room over and  has a whole wall of windows so it’s bright and cheery in there. My roommate opined that it was the most charming sugarhouse we had visited yet. I don’t know if I’d go quite *that* far, but maybe I’m just being non-committal.

The food was, you know, normal. Nothing to write home (or a whole blog post) about. My dining companions both got pancakes with a variety of nuts and chocolate chips and butterscotch chips and a bunch of other stuff in them, and they both looked pleased and slightly ill when the meal was over. I opted for the more conservative blueberry-walnut-chocolate chip pancakes, because I know how to practice some freaking restraint, jeez.

It was served on plastic-ware, which I think is pretty unappetizing, but I get that these places don’t always have the capital to invest in an industrial washer. In the end, I’d say it was worth the trip, and I’ll look forward to hitting it up again when the next sugar season rolls around.

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This week’s sugarhouse was The Strawbale Cafe at Hanging Mountain Farm in Westhampton. I went there last year, when it was set up as an all-you-can-eat buffet, and we had a great time but thought it was a  little pricey. In fact, I believe there was a sharp intake of breath all around when the cost per person was revealed. This year they’ve restructured and now you just order off a menu, so it’s more reasonable. Unless you’re a total glutton, in which case you might feel differently.

My dining companion and I rolled up at 9:45 or so, and we got a table pretty much immediately. Maybe it was just dumb luck, or maybe because it’s open year-round this sugarhouse doesn’t get the same frantic rush of people during sugaring season as the other sugar shacks, but we didn’t have to wait and we didn’t have to sit cheek-to-jowl with the other customers. It was busy the whole time we were there, but not crazed. Plus we were seated near the pellet stove, and nothing pleases me more than a direct heat source. (more…)

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This weekend, my brother was visiting, so I dragged him all the way up to the Davenport Maple Farm sugar house in Shelburne. The wait was maybe 45

minutes, and it was an uncommonly beautiful day so we sat in the sun and enjoyed the sweet smell of the sugar steam escaping from the boiling room and the lovely view.
 

 

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When we got cold, we headed indoors to the boiling room, where you can drink coffee, watch steam rise, and examine the sugaring-related stuff they have on display, like old sap buckets, taps, and candy molds.

Plus, this is beautiful, like stained glass:

We got the best table in the house, probably because they knew I would be writing about my experience there for our vast audience. Will got pancakes and sausage, and I got the finnish pancakes, which are baked, custardy, sweet, super-delicious pancake-ish things, yum! Definitely tasty and a welcome variation on the regular sugar house fare. The downside: this is the priciest sugar shack I’ve encountered yet. Our meal was practically 30 bucks for the two of us! A single pancake for nine dollars seems a tad excessive, no?

Will was very pleased with the syrup.  He really liked the texture (?). All in all: a lovely morning and a little dent in my wallet.

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In Western Massachusetts, a lot of the sugarmakers open up restaurants for only a few weeks during sugaring season, which starts in late February and is over by the end of April, more or less. This is a phenomenon that I’ve never seen anywhere else (maybe they do it in Vermont too? Couldn’t say), and I am all for it. It’s special because you can only visit these places for a few weeks out of the whole year, and most of them are only open on weekends, and they’re usually boiling sap on the days they’re open. You drive out into the Hilltowns (well, we didn’t this weekend, but anyway) and wait with a bunch of other eager people, and if you’re a breakfast enthusiast it’s exciting because it’s just something kind of neat and different. Something I’ve learned is that sugar shacks are mostly about the experience and the atmosphere, not so much about the food, which tends to run the gamut from pancakes to french toast, with waffles in between. That’s cool with me, though.

So I’m going to try to hit up as many of the sugar shacks as I can this season, and I’ll try to write about them for the vicarious pleasure of those of you who are not going to be dragged along on these adventures because you don’t live with me. (That is a veiled warning to my roommate…)

This week, Sebastian and I went to the North Hadley Sugar Shack. It’s a popular one. We got there around 9:30 and had to wait an hour before we got a table, but you can get coffee while you wait, so we didn’t mind. They have a little petting zoo, where a goat got extremely fresh with me. I took it as a compliment, which is kind of lame.

You can also go and check out the evaporator and taste samples of hot syrup that they just boiled. That was a very special treat. I don’t know why it tasted so different and delicious, but it did- maybe because I normally don’t take shots of straight maple syrup?

We both got buckwheat pancakes. They were tasty. Uh, I did mention that the sugar shack experience is not so much about the food, right? The buckwheat pancakes were better than the average sugarhouse pancake, I thought.

All in all, it was a delightful way to spend the morning, although my afternoon is going to be spent recovering from the coffee-and-tons-of-sugar jitters. Whee!

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