Fun at Appleton Farms Sugar Shack
We decided to check out the Appleton Farms Sugar Shack recently and loved the whole experience! This new operation is taking advantage of the many maples that line the trails and dirt roads that criss-cross the farm, and they're boiling down as much as they can so that eventually there will be a small supply of pure maple syrup available at the farm store!
The Sugar shack is located right next to the welcoming center at the farm, making it very easy to find. When we arrived there was a lull in the wind and the little shed building that houses the boiler was enveloped in a cloud of steam. We walked in to find the four stage boiler throwing enourmous amounts of steam into the air that made the shack feel like a steam bath. Becky Fahey of the Trustees was manning the wood-fired boiler and we were encouraged to head out to the trails to taste the sap as it came out of the tree and come back for a taste of what they were making.
B and I headed out and soon came some maples that had been tapped with old style metal spickets that served as the tap for the tree and an anchor for the bucket collecting the sap. On the way, B found a perfect stick - not that we needed it - but it seems that 5 year olds are compelled to find a good stick whenever they get close to the woods.
We found a bucket with a loose cover and I dipped a dixie cup into it so that we could have a taste. The flavor was sweet but not overly so, there was a little bit of woody taste to it, and the best way to describe it would be lightly sweetened water.
I have to admit that knowing what the sap is used to make raised my expectations of what the sap would taste like, and the real thing was not at all what I expected. B could have stayed right there at the tree and finished off the entire bucket, but I encouraged him to race me back to the Sugar Shack to have a taste of the really sweet stuff.
The atmosphere at the sugar shack was very relaxed. People were chatting with one another and just enjoying the experience of taking place in a New England tradition that dates back to a time before Europeans arrived in North America.
There was a mom in there with her kids and one of them let it slip that it was her birthday, so we all sang her the birthday song - a nice community effort to bond us all for just a moment! The mom was a little embarassed, but in the end she had a nice smile when we all shouted, 'Hurray'! The kids in the shack loved it.
We hung around inside learned about the boiling process, the four stage boiler, and the ratios involved. We were then offered a shot right from the boiler and after letting it cool, we had a taste of pure sweetness - it was really good, and the surroundings only added to how tasty it was. B was even able to con another shot out of Becky before we left.
We learned that the ratio is 40:1, meaning that you will end up with 1 gallon of syrup by boiling down 40 gallons of sap. That ratio is huge and explains why buying real maple syrup will break the bank as opposed to the table syrups that are basically some kind of modified corn syrup flavored with sotolon - a maple like flavoring.
Don't leave Appleton Farms without picking up some farm fresh milk at the farm store. This is the best milk on the North Shore!
If you can make it to the Sugar Shack, you won't regret it. Your kids will learn all about a locally made food, the tradition behind it and open more doors to learning by exploring the history of maple sugaring. The experience of tasting the raw sap from the bucket and the actual product in making is a learning opportunity that your kids will remember. Just make sure you wear boots if the weather is Spring-like the farm was pretty muddy due to a late winter thaw the day we went. And don't forget to pick up farm-fresh milk and dairy products from the farm store when you're leaving. This is the best milk on the North Shore!
The next events at the Sugar Shack are another 1st Annual Maple Sugar Festival on March 15, 2014 and teens can volunteer for duty at the Sugar Shack afterschool to take part the Afterschool Sugaring Crew.