The sugar season opened sluggishly this year as stubborn cold temps stifled the flow of nature’s sweet treat. But now all is a go and gray metal buckets hang from trees around town, they are dotting maples lining long winding roads and peppering trails and pathways – everywhere sap is slipping through spiles into covered tin pails.
On a Saturday morning in late March, we climbed into the truck and drove to Elm Grove Farm’s Sugar Shack on the outskirts of Woodstock, Vermont. We used google maps to get there and what should have taken about 25 minutes took us more than a bit longer. Having said that, we found ourselves on a beautiful, if lengthy and narrow drive to the mountainside maple harvester. (We had a big laugh when we met up with friends and learned that we could have taken a much easier and faster route.)
Smoke was billowing from the sugar shack creating the best smelling fog I have ever inhaled. I swear someone should bottle the scent of boiling maple sap and sell it as a home fragrance. My first impressions were of surprise that the building truly looked like an honest to goodness shack. It was tucked away behind the barn and to the side of an old Victorian farmhouse. Inside, the steam grew dense, the scent succulent and strong, you could taste it in the air, its source was a large, modern boiler eating up piles of wood and producing syrup.
After observing the works, we were offered a taste of the warm but not too hot syrup. I never would have thought that I could drink maple syrup but I did and I really enjoyed it. It was just like drinking a maple flavored drink. It was very smooth. The syrup was a dark amber color and it was sweet but not too sweet. It had a boldness to it that had me reaching into my pocket for a Jackson to buy a nice sized jug of it to take home.
Living in Vermont, I have learned that maple syrup is much, much more than just a pancake topping. That is why we stopped on the way home to pick up some lemons. Both are ingredients in a very tasty beverage that we like to serve here at Dutton Hill. I’m happy to share the recipe, but please don’t use the old sticky Log Cabin, Aunt Jamima or Mrs. Butterworths that is sitting in the back of the pantry as a substitute – only real New England maple syrup will suffice.
Dutton Hill Sugar Shack Special
1 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice (there are about 2 oz in a standard lemon)
1 oz of fresh maple syrup
2 oz of bourbon (I recommend a low-to-mid-range bourbon– something you don’t mind mixing. Oh, and don’t use a bourbon that is infused or one on the sweeter side such as Makers as it will make it too sweet.)
Mix the ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Fill two old fashioned glasses with ice. Strain the ingredients into the glass and serve.
It is very tasty. Enjoy and come visit a real sugar shack and take home the authentic stuff.