We stayed at the Fairbanks Inn in St Johnsbury last night. It was the first hotel in a long time that actually used a real metal key for the door. It had two double beds, instead of a single King or Queen, but they were comfortable, and we were dead tired anyway. Wink. Wink.
We got up and ended up running behind again. That put be in a bit of bad mood, and we decided to skip breakfast to make up some time. Neither of usually eat breakfast anyway, but I was looking forward to having a country breakfast in Vermont. It would have to happen today or tomorrow, as those were the only days we would wake up in the GreenMountainState.
A Sugar Maple Tree. This one is about 120 years old.
Our primary reason for staying in St Johnsbury was because Maple Grove Farms was there. When we picked New England as our destination, I wanted to see a place that made cheese, apple cider, and maple syrup. When I finally settled on the three places that had these factories/farms, they were located in Cabot, VT, Waterbury, VT, and St Johnsbury, VT. These towns lined up more or less in an east-west line, so it was obvious we had to stay on either the east end or the west end. We had already decided to stay at the Trapp Family Lodge, in Stowe, VT (very close to Waterbury, the west end) as one of our hotels. Margo loves “The Sound of Music”. So it should have been decided. But when I researched the opening and closing times, I discovered that Maple Grove Farms, in the east side of our line (St.
A display of tools for tapping maple trees. The four similar ones at the top are taps.
Johnsbury) stopped tours at 2 PM. There was no way we would make it working west to east. Hence our hour and half drive last night, just so we could work our way back today.
That long winded explanation has accomplished at least one thing. I can probably get one extra picture in the body of this blog. This is a good thing. Between Margo and me we took 462 pictures. Anyway, the plan was to be at Maple Grove Farms when it opened at . We would be with the first tour and be finished by .
It was only about a 5 minute drive from our hotel, so with skipping breakfast we got there early. When we went in, instead of catching the first tour, we discovered we were the first tour. My bad mood had vanished by the time we signed the guest book. We were directed into a room where we saw a short video on the history of Maple Grove Farms.
We discovered that their first product was not maple syrup, all those many years ago. It was a maple candy. We later got to try some straight from the packing line. It was very good. The maple flavor was not over powering, but it was very sweet. The video showed us the manufacturing process of both the syrup and candy. It was interesting to see that technology had barely touched the maple syrup process. They still use the exact same basic methods, with only metal buckets replacing wood and more efficient uses of heat to reduce the syrup creeping in. After seeing the video, combined with our breakfastless morning, had convinced me that I had to try some maple syrup.
The tour took us to the packing room, where hairneted and white labcoated workers were taking the candy out molds, doing a quality control check, and then putting perfect pieces of candy into gift boxes. One of the workers gave Margo and me a sample as we went by. It was very good. From there are guided portion of the tour ended. Our guide directed us out a door, on the grounds to see a replica Sugar House, which is where the maple syrup is boiled down, on the farm.
Maple Grove Farms factory
The last thing our guide told us, while pointing across the street, “That is a Sugar Maple Tree. It is about 120 years old. You don’t start tapping a tree until it is at least 40 years.”
The Sugar House and the displays were interesting, especially the taps. Those are the spike-like things they drive into the tree to get the sap out of the trees. We also thought it was interesting that some farms instead of putting buckets on the taps to collect the sap, use plastic tubing and channel it into a central location. We snapped a few pictures, which we had failed to do during the tour, and then made our way to the gift shop.
The first thing that I did was look to see if they had samples. They did and I headed straight for them. I had never had real maple syrup before. They stuff I had was synthetic. Real Maple Syrup is expensive. After trying it, I’m thinking it’s worth it. The maple flavor was not overwhelming, like I expected.
How to gather sap!
If anything, the word subtle describes it. And, this was on Grade B syrup, the most pronounced kind. I wanted to try other grades, there are five, but this was late in the year. More importantly we were told that this had not been a good year for syrup. So, they were out of a lot of the grades and sizes of bottles. And only Grade B was available for sampling. We picked out a bunch of stuff and decided to have it shipped home. It might cost a little more, but it would be worth avoiding the hassle.
I had stressed to Margo that today we really needed to stay on schedule. I wanted to make sure we got to our hotel, the Trapp Family Lodge, with plenty of time to spare. This was the one thing Margo was most looking forward to, and I wanted to make sure we got some daylight hours to spend there. When we left Maple Grove and St. Johnsbury, we were right on schedule. Our next stop was going to be Cabot, VT and Cabot Creamery.
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