My kids love maple syrup. At least they think they do. We have some Mrs. Butterworth syrup that the kids and Big Guy use on their pancakes. When I have the choice, I prefer REAL maple syrup. You know, from a tree, as nature intended. So, now that we have a glimmer of spring, I decided that it was time for a return to Turtle Lane Maple Farm.
Turtle Lane Maple Farm in North Andover, MA, is owned by Farmer Paul and Farmer Kathy, and their four kids. In fact, it resides in their back yard! It started as an experiment in 2003 and has grown into the hobby that beats all hobbies. In addition to their full-time jobs and the joys of parenting, Paul and Kathy have tapped maple trees all over the area (in their backyard, but also with permission on public land) and they spend their weekends at this time of year boiling sap, making and packaging products to sell, and teaching the rest of us all about maple syrup and its origins.
We set out through the mud into Paul and Kathy’s backyard where their sugar house stands. We visited a few years ago and the house was… well, a shack. Their new sugar house is more like a small cabin with all of the equipment necessary to make maple syrup that can be sold in local markets.
In a free hour-long presentation/tour, Paul explains the process of tapping trees, collecting sap, filtering it, boiling it, etc., in fine detail. There are some excellent science and math lessons in there for those who are paying attention! He shows the equipment being used and weaves in some historical information on maple syrup and maple sugar, as well. During the tour, Kathy passes around a variety of samples, including sap, mid-boiled “syrup,” and the final product. We also tasted some of their maple sugar products, but I don’t want to give away all of their surprises. The highlight of the shack (other than the delicious syrup) is a professional evaporator that slowly boils sap down to syrup. You’ll want to keep an eye on young kids in there because that evaporator is very hot.
When we arrived at the shack, there were already 15-20 people there, and more straggled in over the next 45 minutes. Guests are welcome to stop by while they are boiling (as mentioned on their website), but they do ask that large groups (15 or more) make a reservation. You can also pop in and buy some maple sugar candy, maple cream (no cream here… it’s all sugar), maple sugar or, of course, maple syrup in a variety of shades/flavor intensities.
Bug, who is five and a half, learned quite a bit during the presentation, although large portions went over his head. Lady Bug (3) wasn’t at all interested until the samples came out. This is a great activity for elementary and middle school kids, although you shouldn’t be surprised if they want to start making their own syrup at home! It’s also fun for adults who are curious about the process. I learned a lot, and it was my second time visiting. We came home with Grade B syrup (I like to have as much maple flavor as possible!), some maple cream, and some maple sugar candies (Oh, who am I kidding? My family gobbled those up in the car!)
Turtle Lane Maple Farm is open for tours for as long as there is sap to boil, but it’s basically the month of March. Check their website to see when they will be boiling each weekend. They also have opportunities to volunteer with preparations in January and February. You can follow their Facebook page to keep up-to-date. North Andover is about 30 miles outside of Boston, so this is a great family activity, especially paired with another local attraction, like a hike through Harold Parker State Forest.