If you’re a New Englander worthy of the name, you know that maple syrup is one of the best known products of our region. Perhaps less so these days in Massachusetts, where farms are often bought up and replaced by housing developments named after the farm they decimated. But there are still farms in our area tapping maple trees for sap to turn into various maple products.
The Warren Farm in North Brookfield is still making syrup, sugar & candies from their sap, and March is usually the most active time for sap gathering/boiling. If you haven’t visited a farm/sugar house since your childhood, you need to see what has changed in sap-gathering and syrup-making.
Dale and Janice Wentworth are hosting tours of their operation every Saturday and Sunday this month at 2:00 p.m. This isn’t the quick trip to a sugar house to see sap boiling. Janice Wentworth used to be a teacher and will treat you to a 1.5-hour presentation featuring a history of maple-tapping and a tour of their facilities. Janice will tell you about the earliest known accounts/methods of sap gathering by Native Americans, then into the colonial period. As she takes you through history, you’ll learn about the changing methods used down the ages, and eventually to 20th and 21st century technologies.
Folks on the tour will be offered a small paper cup with fresh sap to taste. It is primarily water, with just a tiny amount of maple sugar in it. This is what is gathered from trees and boiled until most of the water is gone.
The presentation is held in a greenhouse behind the farm stand & gift shop building, so even on a chilly day, you’ll be pretty warm while learning about maple.
Janice will then take the visitors to see how modern sap gathering happens. Gone are the buckets hanging from trees, though there are a couple available to show how things used to be done.
In their place is an advanced network of vacuum tubes that draw sap from trees and bring it directly to a holding tank in readiness for its visit to the evaporator.
Janice will then take you to the sugar house where all the magic happens.
If you haven’t already met Dale Wentworth by this point, you’ll probably find him minding the evaporator, a stainless steel marvel that is kept heated by countess cords of wood stacked nearby. The evaporator is run with great precision, and the boiling point of water is even monitored regularly by referencing the barometric pressure, with the evaporator adjusted accordingly.
Dale may even show you the smaller evaporator where he’s been making syrup from birch sap.
The tour ends back in the greenhouse, where visitors are offered samples of four different grades of syrup to taste. You may find a new favorite!
The tour costs $5 per person, and for that you get an hour and a half of fascinating information about maple sugaring and its history, free samples of sap & syrup, and a maple recipe booklet. After the syrup sampling, visitors go down to the gift shop to pay for their tour, and many decide to purchase some maple products before leaving.
There’s limited seating in the greenhouse, so call ahead before you leave to make sure there will be room for you: 508-867-0174. Tours are at 2:00 pm on Saturdays and Sundays this month. This tour attracts foreign tourists as well, so you may meet someone from abroad who set aside an afternoon on their trip to learn about this unique aspect of New England.
When you arrive, someone will meet you at the road to see if you’re on the list of folks who called, and then help find you a spot to park so that all visitors can be accommodated at the end of this small road.
Warren Farm is located at 31 Warren St. in North Brookfield. It’s a pleasant & scenic half-hour drive from the Worcester area. Wear weather-appropriate clothing, and mud-resistant shoes — at this time of year, even if it hasn’t been raining, the melting snow may create some mud between the greenhouse and sugar house, or in the woods.
(Once you know where the Warren Farm is, be sure to stop back in the warmer months when their farm stand is selling fresh produce!)