Thursday, March 24, 2011

2011 New Thing 5 + Challenge 2: A Weekend of All Things Maple

Vermont is a year-round destination.  People come in the winter for the skiing and other snow-based activities in the Green Mountains, they love hiking and paddling in the summer, and the fall, of course, is full of some of the best foliage displays in the country.  About the only time that Vermonters don't suggest for tourists to come is now -- the beginning of mud season, when the rocks protrude through the diminishing snow on the ski slopes and the dirt roads become impassable and every morning it's any one's guess whether it will snow or rain or feel like a sunny spring day.  The silver lining to mud season, though, is that it's also maple season, and there are dozens of maple sugar houses that kick into high gear to get their trees tapped and sap boiled for the year. Each year one weekend is specially designated for all the sugar houses to open their doors and welcome the public, and last weekend was that open house time.  Chris, Siham and I headed up on Route 15 to the area of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom to check out some of the sugar houses there.

Lots of Vermont farms do maple syrup production in addition to producing other agricultural products, and our tour began at one of those places, the Boyden Valley Winery.  It was packed, and after checking out the boiling room, we headed back to the car for a path a little less-travelled.  We quickly found it, just down the road at the Lasting Spring Farm, owned by the Hunt Family.  They've had to sell off much of the family farm, but still operate a saw mill and the kids of the family had only just put out the flags saying they were open for the day.  The Hunts obligingly explained all kinds of things about their operation to us, from the layout of the tubing system that conveys the sap to the boiler room to the fact that Saint Albans, about 50 minutes north of Burlington is actually the hub of syrup production equipment for North America.

Chris getting some lessons in the science of syrup from one of the long-time experts at Boyden Winery

Siham saved her questions for the Hunt family.  Their brand-new sugar house (made from trees they milled themselves) is just down the road from our first stop.
After visiting the Hunts, we headed still further north to the town of Johnson, where we left off our quest of all things maple for a detour to the Johnson Woolen Mills, another Vermont institution for the past 167 years.  We tried on many forms of flannel before hitting our final syrup destination of the day, the Dodge's Sugarhouse at the Mansion House in Johnson.  This one was particularly appealing to Chris because it involved a 3.3 mile drive to the end of a heavily rutted dirt (mud) road.  There we had still more maple samples and syrup on snow, and finally broke down and bought syrup and maple cream as mementos of our days' travels. 
Siham and I couldn't resist trying on some (a lot) of things at the Johnson Woolen Mill.  The giant flannel shirts were pure Vermont but the hats took me back to my hometown of Twin Falls, Idaho.

For those who have never seen it, this is what fresh, hot maple syrup on snow looks like.

The next day it was time to put the syrup to use, and I tried my hand at modifying baking recipes to incorporate real Vermont maple syrup. The results turned out pretty well, I must say.  That night Chris, Siham, Josh, Dan and I tried out a pretty good mix -- salad with maple vinaigrette, roasted Brussels sprouts in a maple reduction (Sihams's contribution) and three new baked goods -- maple-cranberry scones, maple sugar cookies and maple rugelach.  Josh has been not-so-patiently waiting for a cookie named after him and I thought it would be the maple sugar cookies.  But when the group unanimously decided that the maple-chocolate rugelach I concocted was the best thing in the batch, that became his cookie of choice.  Hereafter the rugelach will be known as M.R. (Maple Rugelach) Hoxies, and I've promised to make a second batch in the near future for people to try.
Here's Josh holding the cookie that I thought was going to be named in his honor  But after trying the rugelach, he declared that it was the rugelach that would henceforth carry the name of Maple (Rugelach) Hoxie.

Here was the day's haul of baked goods .  The smaller plate has MR Hoxies and maple sugar cookies and the larger one has maple-cranberry scones. 

Despite the crutches it was a fabulous weekend, and proof that there really is no bad time to visit Vermont.  Even in mud season, there's lots to see and do (and eat).


  1. Thanks for posting the cookie blog. I am always intrigued by your cooking adventures.