‘Tis the finest time of spring, when all wend their ways into the hinterlands to observe the annual Boiling of the Sap, the Making of the Maple Syrup, and the Dining At The Farm. One of the finest traditions of Western Massachusetts is the Sugar House, or the Sugar Shack: a place where you can experience the turning of the year. There truly is nothing like wandering into the sugar house while the boiling is underway. You drive miles on country roads, pitted by the winter’s plowing, with the rotting snowbanks, dingy and grey, lining the path. The trees are naked, and the landscape is utterly devoid of even the hint of color. There are no signs of spring…
…not until you round a bend, and spy a rustic wooden hut, with a small cupola jetting powerful clouds of fragrant steam. You can’t smell it, not yet, but you know. If you’re in Western Massachusetts, where we have a regional speciality in this sort of thing, you may find a large parking lot next to the hut, loaded to the brim with expensive sport utility vehicles, luxury sedans, hybrid hatchbacks, and snowmobiles – and in the right place – a hitching rail with saddled and blanketed horses attached. These happy travelers are here not just for the joy of socializing with the sugar-maker, but for a fresh breakfast, farm-style, with eggs and sausage, and bacon, and waffles, and pancakes, and – if you are in the very right place – corn fritters. All served with the freshest possible maple syrup, almost straight from the evaporator to your table.
There’s nothing like a cup of coffee, no matter how pedestrian the bean or the roast, that is served piping hot, with a drizzle of warm maple syrup to sweeten it up. Even those who do not take their coffee “sweet” may find themselves adopting a new attitude when it’s a dollop of freshly-boiled maple syrup added to the cup. There’s also nothing like a hot corn fritter, served with a small pool of the syrup on the side.
Last year, our favorite sugar house, South Face Farm, announced that it was their last year of operations for the breakfast business. Roy and I felt as though a small light had gone right out of our lives. The building, the staff, the coffee, the drive from our hometown, but especially, the corn fritters. This place was one of those things that makes Mud Season in New England worth living through. Imagine our joy when the local community rallied behind the operation, and opened the restaurant once again for the current season. Unbounded, that’s what it was. Ecstatic. I ate four (4) corn fritters all by myself, just in a pure spirit of celebration. It was a moment to inspire one to Poetry. And thus, I offer you this:
An Ode To A Sugar House.
We ariseth from the winter’s shrinking grip
As growing daylight warms the air from chilling night
And snow-cover’d passages thaw, freeze, and slip
While suns’ rays set the heavenly dome alight.
Now in the growing days of spring
Does sap burst up in every maple’s core
While farmer tramps through softening snow
The brimming bucket full of sap to bring
Nectar, prime for boiling o’er a flaming pyre for
To shrink that juice into a tender sweetening flow.
And in that time of sweetly springing
Do folk long for pilgrimages rural
As birds anew are gently singing
Upon the gnarled maple burl.
And then, do farmers launch their toil
While waiting hand and foot at table
While pilgrims seek waffles, coffee, and cakes
The handy product of the farmers’ boil
All sweetened to the heights with essence maple
That with the work and boiling, farmer makes.