Being a transplant, when I first moved to New England I wanted to try all things that are especially New England. I quickly had a lobster roll, but many of the quintessential New England activities had eluded me. (Read my New England Bucket List for all of those activities.) This year I finally got to wade into a cranberry bog. I was also determined to get into a maple sugar house and see maple syrup being made. I have inquired over the fifteen years I have lived here and found it hard to figure out if a sugar house was open and offering tours.
Did you know that 65% of maple syrup in the US is produced in New England? The sticky, sweet liquid comes from the maple tree, which is ubiquitous in many New England yards. The sap is extracted by putting a tap (straw) in the tree while the sap is climbing. This occurs when there is a thaw after a point of freezing. This explains why New Englanders tap their maple trees in February and March when nights freeze.
The sap is then boiled down to produce syrup. This is done in a few ways, but the serious syrup makers do it with a large, gleaming evaporator. This generally takes place in old wood buildings– not sure why this is true– called sugarhouses, or sometimes, sugar shacks. It takes a lot of sap to produce maple syrup- around 40 gallons of sap produce one gallon of syrup. Definitely makes you appreciate your pancakes more!
All the syrup producers that I encountered make their syrup as a labor of love, a hobby, even if they make a profit on it. Some work mainstream jobs, others are farmers. Now it makes sense why it is hard to get into a sugar house. We recently visited Quebec’s Winter Carnival with our friends from Maine who told us that Maine has a whole weekend when the maple sugar shacks are open to the public- Maine Maple Sunday. A plan was born– I was finally going to get into a maple syrup house!
An Accessible, Educational Sugar Shack in Rhode Island
A few weeks before our visit to Maine for Maine Maple Sunday, my friend told me about a few sugar houses they visited in Rhode Island, where I live. They told us their favorite and I headed there with my friend, Angie, and our kids on a Saturday morning in early March.
Uncle Buck’s Sugar House
11 Church Street, Ashaway, RI
Driving up the residential street to arrive at Uncle Buck’s was the perfect introduction to syrup making. Uncle Buck has been making his syrup right next to his home for decades. He and his wife were happy to educate us on the science and skill of syrup making. He spent a lot of time explaining everything to us and the kids learned a lot of science. While he was busy making the syrup, his wife was busy turning the syrup into all sorts of tasty treats, all of which you are free to try. Of all the sugar houses we visited this spring, we learned the most here in this small sugar house in southern Rhode Island.
Uncle Buck’s is open during thawing season on Saturdays and Sundays 10-4. This changes year to year depending on the weather, so be sure to check their Facebook page to see if they are open.
Since some of you also know me as the Rhode Island donut girl,– stop at West’s Bakery right up the road when you leave. Try a Bismark, a sugared donut filled with raspberry jelly and whipped cream.
Maine Maple Sunday
During the fourth weekend in March, a festival of sorts happens throughout the state of Maine. Even through it is called Maple Sunday, the houses open to the public and host events during the whole weekend. In 2019, there were 99 sugar houses open to the public, ranging from small private sugar houses, to large farms that produce syrups.
How to Plan a Visit to Maine Maple Sunday
The majority of Maine’s Sugarhouses are in southeast Maine. You can check out a current list of Maine sugarhouses here.
We stayed with friends, but you can stay in the fabulous town of Portland (look for hotels here) which has an urban, seaside vibe and is about half an hour from numerous sugarhouses.
Here are a few Maine Maple Sunday tips:
- Something our friends warned us about and I am so thankful to know– thawing season is also mud season in Maine. This means you will be walking through mud, so be sure to wear rain or snow boots! If you don’t have a pair, you can shop for some here. (This is an Amazon link, which means if you buy anything through here, you help support my maple-eating habits, which I greatly appreciate, at no additional cost to you.)
- Saturday is less busy than Sunday, although the whole weekend is busy, even when the weather is bad.
- Come hungry. Maple syrup is served in many forms and you will want to try them all.
Here is how we spent our time on our first Maine Maple Sunday weekend:
Exploring Sugarhouses around Maine
On Saturday, we explored the sugarhouses around Gorham because there are a fair amount to choose from in a small area.
195 N Gorham Rd, Gorham, ME
There is so much going on at Merrifield Farm, it was my favorite stop in Maine.They had samples of hard vanilla ice cream with their syrup on top, which was my favorite food of the day. My kids loved the maple cotton candy. They had farm animals to cuddle, syrup-making demonstrations, a fiddler and a blacksmith forging. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on their tables with food from their window and stores.
443 Sebago Lake Rd, Gorham, ME
Less than a mile up for road from Merrifield Farm, sits the small Jo’s Sugar House. I heard they were having more activities on Sunday, but the day we visited it was just the sugar house and a store selling maple goodies. There were less crowds and it was a nice contrast to the large event happening elsewhere.
280 Buzzell Rd, Dayton, ME
On Sunday, we wanted to have a real pancake breakfast. We headed to Harris Farm for their all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. The lines at Harris’ were long, but we enjoyed looking at the cows on a beautiful spring day. The butter and pancakes were incredible! I heard the maple donuts were yummy too, but the line was too long for us to get some.
I hope this post helped you learn how to make your maple syrup dreams come true. Next year I will have to go to one of my favorite states, Vermont’s,maple syrup weekend. On our last visit, we did get to try some maple products in this state that produces the most syrup in the US. Read about my trip to Vermont.
Have you visited a sugar shack? What is your favorite maple product? Tell me about it in the comments.