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.
The MAPLE Calendar
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 through March 30. 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
Another sugarhouse open to the public on weekends is Brookside Farm on 79 East Chestnut Hill Road in Litchfield. Started in 1999 as a second act to corporate careers, the owners' overall goal is to promote the resurgence of sustainable agriculture in Connecticut. On their 30 acres farm, they produce hay (for horses) and maple syrup (for people). Their maple syrup won 3 rd place in the 2014 International Maple Syrup tasting contest. Call (860) 567-3890 before setting out to confirm the syrup operation. They are open for visits through March 30.
The Plymouth Maple Fest takes place this year on March 4 on the Plymouth Green, 10 Park St, on Rte. 6 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will be maple syrup boiling on an outdoor fire, live music with Fiddlin' with Down Home Frolic, crafts for kids, maple ham and baked beans to snack on and even horse drawn hay rides. Best of all admission is free.
The Stamford Museum & Nature Centers starts the month in gala fashion with its annual Maple Sugar Festival slated for March 4 and 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 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 4 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. New this year is the Connecticut Valley Siberian Husky Club's dog sledding and mushing demonstration. www.iaismuseum.org
Pancakes are also on the menu on March 5 from 8 a.m. to noon at the annual all you can eat pancake breakfast to benefit Flanders Nature Center at the Woodbury Emergency Services Building on Quassuk Rd. in Woodbury. Flanders Nature Center is also hosting maple sugaring demonstrations at the Sugar House located on 5 Church Hill Rd. in Woodbury on March 4 and 5, 11 and 12 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. www.flandersnaturecenter.org
March 8 – 11
For those who can't make the first weekend, March offers many other special events. The Greenwich Land Trust is hosting two maple sugar events.
The first is the Sugar Maple Winter Walk on March 8 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Duck Pond Hill on 12 Burning Tree Rd in Greenwich. Stroll through the American Chestnut Sanctuary and learn about their comeback in Connecticut. The highlight of this event is to watch a maple tapping to learn what goes into making the sweet stuff! Walking conditions may be a bit tricky because the walk will be on uneven terrain. The second event takes place on March 11 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Greenwich Land Trust located on 370 Round Hill Rd. in Greenwich.There will be an afternoon of of demonstrations on maple tapping and syrup boiling – learn what goes into making the sweet stuff! Many family fun activities are planned. The Rain Date: Sunday, March 12. Pre-registration required www.gltrust.org.
The Annual Maple Festival at Sweet Wind Farm takes place in East Hartland on March 11 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The busy day will include tree tapping, maple syrup and maple sugar making demonstrations with free syrup samples, a narrated slide show and video, tours, live music, and --almost everyone's favorite activity-- a sugar-on-snow candy making demonstration. www.sweetwindfarm.net
The annual Open House at the Great Brook Sugar House on Sullivan Farm in New Milford takes place on March 18 from 10 am to 5 pm and is 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 18 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 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 25 is also the date of the annual Maplefest! at the Sharon Audubon Center. From 12 noon. to 4 p.m. guided tours of the center's sugaring operation that includes at working sugarhouse and a re-creation of Native American and early colonial sugaring methods. Watch as pure sugar maple sap is collected from the trees and turned into delicious maple syrup. Fresh syrup will be available for purchase, while supplies last, as well as locally made maple candy. http://ct.audubon.org