Its All About The Maple in Vermont

Its All About The Maple in Vermont

So what did we learn after our oh so sweet adventure? When it’s spring in Vermont, thoughts turn to maple sugaring. From back yard buckets  to big commercial evaporators, its all about the maple. Warm days and cold nights get the sap running and when the governor thinks its going to hit peak, he announces the annual Maple Sugar Festival. Sugar Houses, inns, restaurants, craft fairs all join in with special hours and events.

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Its a culture of Maple

We met down to earth, hard working people who took great pride in their maple products and the Vermont Maple Products reputation. Even in the city (Brattleboro) there was still a hard working rural ethic. We even found one sugar house that sold their products on the honor system. Their cash sat out on a table in a basket. You were trusted to pay for your purchases and if you made change to be honest. No credit cards required.

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We Learned about Grades

No, not the kind you get in school. We learned there are different grades of maple syrup. I learned that I like the most refined grade, the Golden,  the best although the Amber was a close 2nd. We talked about apples and orchards as well as maple and sampled maple cream, cider donuts and maple cookies.

Photo by Jr St Jean, Take Pride Photography  https://www.facebook.com/JRStJeanPhotographer/

To sum it up

We had a great time but to really get the most out of the Festival I’d like to get a room and spend the weekend. I’d drive up Friday night so I could get an early start on Saturday.  http://vermontmaple.org/ Enjoy a pancake breakfast, explore more of the Sugar Houses. Some example of activities offered at participating sugar houses include:

  • Tours of sugar house and woods
  • Pancake breakfasts
  • Maple candy-making demonstrations
  • Live music
  • Horse-drawn sleigh rides
  • Sugar-on-snow
  • Sampling of maple syrup
  • Maple donuts, maple cotton candy, maple creemees and other maple goodies to try
  • Maple syrup and maple specialty products to purchase

I’m sure I’d make myself sick with so much sugar but it’s only one weekend, Right?

One last thing I learned. I understand why reporters don’t take their own photos. I felt very rude taking out the camera while someone was busy explaining about their business. I missed  quite a few photos and Joe was nice enough to share his pictures to fill in what I missed.

Travel Blogger by JR. St Jean

Maybe next year I can spend the weekend in Vermont for Maple Sugar Festival.

 

 

 

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Time for One More in Jacksonville, Vermont

Jacksonville Vermont Sugar House

After a brief lunch just to prove to my stomach that there are foods other than donuts and sweet maple candy we figured we had time for 1 more stop before the sugar houses began to shut down for the day. Joe pulled up his little map for the next closest Sugar House and found Sprague & Son Sugar House in Jacksonville, Vermont.

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I was still looking for the sugar-on-snow, a treat from my childhood. We’d had the snow all day but so far only our first stop had boiling sap and it wasn’t ready to be poured over snow. It had a lot more cooking to do before then.

Sampling more Maple

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Our wintry mix had turned more to rain when we spotted Sprague & Son. They had some nice decorative touches with a wood carving out front and a miniature sugar house.

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This sugar house was busier than the first two and quite crowded. Their samples were something called maple crunches which looked to me like crumbled maple sugar candy. A great way to recycle broken maple candies. But the big item they were pushing was called Maple Creme. They had a large bowl of it and lots of little wooden spoons. It has a thick, smooth consistency like frosting. Another hit! It wouldn’t take too much of this to overdose on sugar!

The Evaporator

Their evaporator was right there in the main room. Something was steaming but it might just have been water. They said they had run out of sap to boil. They too use the plastic tubing to bring the sap from the trees to the evaporator. I didn’t hear anyone say what they use for fuel but I’m guessing wood if the wood piles outside are any indication. They had some very attractive product displays.

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Joe got the picture of the day here when he noticed a window covered in condensation with bottles of syrup balanced on the panes.

Photo by Joe St. Jean, Take Pride Photography https://www.facebook.com/JRStJeanPhotographer/

Maple Walnut

Behind the cash register was a soft serve machine. The only flavor, why Maple of course! Buy a cup of maple soft serve, sprinkle in some maple gazed walnuts, top with a splash of maple syrup and voila! Maple Walnut soft serve. (that’s for my sister, Sandy).

All About Sprague & Son

I couldn’t find a website that worked but I did find them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Sprague-Son-Sugarhouse-290671490950920/

There was also a nice write up on their history at http://www.whitingham-maplefest.us/sprague.html

Locate at 1631 Rt 100 this was the easiest of the 3 sugar houses to find. Open daily during Sugaring season. Weekends and Holidays the remainder of the year. Free samples of all of their products are always available.

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Dwight Miller & Son, Dummerston Vermont

Dwight Miller & Son, Dummerston, Vermont

The “wintry mix” was getting worse but neither Joe nor I was ready to call it a day yet.We’d driven all this way and only seen one Maple Sugar House and a quaint covered bridge.

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We had to keep going. On Star saved the route we entered before our brief photo stop so it wasn’t long before we had gone around Brattleboro to arrive at Dummerston, Vermont.

Once again we slipped and slid our way along a sloppy dirt road. I could feel the mud pulling at the tires. I didn’t need the little  on my dash board. We spotted the plastic tubing first then as we came up a little rise we saw the sign, Dwight Miller & Son Orchards and under that a hand made  “Maple Open House”.

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The Sugar House

No billowing clouds of steam here. It was pretty damp and chilly inside too. One car load of people were leaving as we came in and then it was just us. Mr. Miller was quite hospitable. It was clear he enjoyed talking about his work. He gave us the grand tour past huge vats where the raw sap came in from the vacuum tubing to the smaller vats where it was filtered but I didn’t see an evaporator.

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Turns out it was outside and it was huge. This wasn’t a wood burning monster. No this one ran on oil. Right now it was shut down but this was a true commercial operation.

Back out front there was a tasting table. On the table were some of the most delectable donut holes I have ever tasted. I think they were cider donuts. They were light and coated in cinnamon sugar. The sign said 1 per person but like the potato chips, it was hard to eat just one. A jug of cider with little cups  rested next to the donuts.

The Taste Test

Like a wine tasting, tiny little paper cups were set up with 3 different grades of syrup. As “Dwight” explained the different grades I slowly sampled each one. To my surprise my favorite was the “Golden”. The lightest color and the lightest taste. I thought I’d like the strong dark one but no, the light one was the best.

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This sugar house and orchard concentrates on maple syrup only. No candy, no maple creme, no maple coated nuts. Just syrup. When I asked why, I was told they had so much demand for their syrup that they couldn’t produce enough to have the other lines of products. So obviously this was where we bought the syrup for Joe’s sister, Bobbi-Jo.

Where to find Dwight Miller Orchards

Dwight Miller Orchards is located at 511 Miller Rd, Dummerston, VT 05301.

 

 

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Scenic Vermont

Scenic Vermont

As we pulled out of the Robb Family Farm we called On Star for directions to the 2nd Sugar House on the list. With the big snow flakes coming down it was easy to see why Vermont has a reputation for being scenic. The rural ambiance was only enhanced by the wintry weather.

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Creamery Covered Bridge

On the way in we’d passed a red, covered bridge. Now Joe suggested we pull over for a photo op.

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Named the Creamery Covered Bridge it is the only covered bridge left in Brattleboro, Vermont. It is well maintained and it seems the town is serious about keeping it that way. A large boulder has been placed in front of it to prevent cars from driving over it. You can walk but you can’t drive.

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Of course the bridge is an iconic shot but the stream that runs under the bridge is interesting too. I took some time to take a few photos of that as well as the bridge.

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I heard that this is a popular spot for wedding photos during the summer. I can see why.

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The Sugar House at the Robb Family Farm

The Sugar House at the Robb Family Farm

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Stepping into the Sugar House at the Robb Family Farm was like stepping back in time. The rich maple aroma washed over you immediately. Who cares about maple syrup. Lets just make a perfume like this…heavenly!

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The Sugar House is made of wood; wooden floors, wooden doors, wooden tables. Take a right as you enter the shop, push open a wooden door and you are right where the magic happens. Most of the room is taken up by a huge furnace or stove or I’m not sure what to call it except what it is, an evaporator. It’s a huge fire box with large, shallow pans to boil the the sap into the thick, sweet, gooey goodness we all love on our morning pancakes.

From Sap to Syrup

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It takes an amazing amount of sap to make even 1 quart of syrup. Usually about 40 gallons of sap are required to produce one gallon of finished syrup. This evaporator is burning wood for fuel which explains the huge woodpiles we saw as we came in.

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It’s a feast for the senses. Imagine the smells of a wood burning fireplace with a strong overlay of maple.

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To the right of the evaporator was a small table with maple cookies and homemade donuts, free samples. I especially liked the cookies. One of the maple farmers was watching over the process and explaining everything to the crowd as we filtered through.

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Vermont Maple Sugar Products

Back in the shop I had to choose. Did I want a big maple leaf or a small bag of maple candy or something in between. It all looked so good and of course it smelled good so it’s hard to resist.

Some History

It’s no wonder the Sugar House looks old. The Robb Family Farm was established in 1907. For 105 years the farm was a commercial dairy farm but in 2011 the farm became victim of the badly fluctuating dairy prices and milked its last cow. That was when they began to concentrate on the Vermont Maple Syrup products.

The farm also shifted from dairy to beef. Now you can purchase naturally grown and fed beef, no antibiotics and no hormones. I haven’t tried Robb Family Farm beef but we raised our own beef when I was growing up and it definitely tastes better than the standard grocery store beef.

What a great start to our Vermont Maple Syrup Festival! A very traditional Sugar House with a wood burning evaporator, yummy maple cookies and donuts and a warm, friendly atmosphere.

I don’t know if the Robb Family Farm is open to visitors or tours when it’s not the big Maple Sugar Festival but they have an online store at http://robbfamilyfarm.com/

I can personally vouch for their maple sugar candy…2 thumbs up!

If you plan a visit they are located at 827 Ames Hill Rd. Brattleboro, VT. 802-257-0163

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Let’s go Maple Sugaring!

Let’s go  Maple Sugaring!

After breakfast at Raff’s Cafe in Haverhill, we headed out to see how many  Maple Sugar houses we could visit in one day. Joe had downloaded a map with all of the places taking part in the Maple Sugar Festival. We decided to start with the southern-most farms first and work our way north if we had time. The closes farm looked to be the Robb Family Farm in Brattleboro, VT. We plugged the address of 827 Ames Hill Rd. Brattleboro Vt. into my On Star and were given an drive time of 2 hours , 6 minutes.

Getting there.

As we pulled out of the parking lot we noticed the overcast sky. Driving to Haverhill I’d passed through bands of rain, like squalls. It would be raining then dry then rain again. Joe checked the weather app but it did not give any indication of storms, just gray, cold and overcast so off we went!

Turns out the route wasn’t very direct. The old Maine phrase “Can’t get there from here” kept running through my mind as we backtracked south on RT 495 until we reached RT 2. Soon we were traveling along the scenic Mohawk Trail. A nice trip to make when spring finally gets here.

We picked up RT 91 north and pulled off at the first exit in Vermont. It had started to snow or maybe rain. It was hard to tell. I guess the weather term is “wintry mix”. The views from the visitor center were scenic but we didn’t linger for pictures because of the weather.

Something to do on another trip.

Vermont Arrival

It didn’t take long to reach Brattleboro. On Star led us through the village and onto a little dirt road. The road was snow covered by now and starting to get muddy in places. Fun! First time going “mudding” in my Equiniox!

We could see the plastic tubing running along the trees by the side of the road so we knew we were headed in the right direction. Plastic tubing  replaced the traditional buckets for commercial production in the late 1950’s.

Topping a small rise in the road we saw a large farm house on the right. The sugar shack was on the left with clouds of steam billowing from the opening in the roof. This was a traditional Sugar Maple Scene right out of Currier and Ives!

There were plenty of cars parked along the road. It made me wonder what kind of traffic there would have been on a nice day? Time to get the car parked and go inside. Let’s see what this Maple Sugar Festival is all about.

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Raff’s Cafe, Haverhill

Fresh Start

Back at home I put the unpleasant airline experience behind me making plans with Joe to go Maple Sugaring. Vermont was holding it annual Maple Sugar Festival. On that weekend sugar houses, craft stores, Inns and Restaurants across the state celebrate all things  Maple by opening their businesses to truckloads of tourists. Maple is King this weekend from pancake breakfasts to crocheted maple leaves! I was interested in the sugar houses with their boiling, bubbling sap but it would be quite a drive to get there so Joe suggested meeting at his sister’s restaurant, Raff’s Cafe,  for breakfast before we headed to Vermont.

Raff’s Cafe

Raff’s cafe  is located at 620 Primrose St, Haverhill right off RT 495. It’s in a little strip mall. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, open from 6 AM and closing at 2 pm.

When I walked in around 9 am it was completely full. I made a detour to the “powder room” to wash off the hour + drive.  When I came back out a small table had opened up. I introduced myself and experienced a flashback from Cheers…where everybody knows your name!

I’ve been friends with Joe for more than 30 years but had not met his sister. Still when you’ve been friends for so long the family hears your name and they made me feel like they had known me forever. The dynamics of the staff and the customers also made me think of Cheers. Lots of banter and no one seemed to be a stranger. Clearly this was a popular local breakfast spot.

While I waited for Joe I was offered coffee, tea, hot chocolate a soft drink, water…something, anything…even my breakfast! Joe’s sister, Bobbie-Jo suggested I have my breakfast and they’d leave an empty plate for Joe telling him he’d already finished his (joke). I finally caved and accepted a hot chocolate with loads of whipped cream. (Yummy) I’d just finished it when Joe arrived.

Bobbie-Jo and Chuck, Co-Owners

We ordered breakfast which came cooked to perfection by Chuck, the co-owner. Our table was near the kitchen and I was entertained by the oldies that drifted out the half door.

Menu

I was amazed at the prices. The menu was comprehensive with all the old favorites and all very reasonably priced! (see page 1 below) In fact I’d have said they were priced below average. I love bacon but am very fussy about how its cooked. The bacon here came out of the kitchen cooked to perfection! I also had French Toast, another win!

Conclusion

You can’t beat this little gem for price, quality or friendliness. If you are in the area, stop in. I am sure you won’t be disappointed!

Photos by Joe St. Jean, Take Pride Photography

(This endorsement is totally unsolicited. They didn’t even know I was writing about them)

 

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Frustration At American Airlines

Frustration Overwhelms!

As I reached the end of the jet way my coat slid out of my arms again as I lifted the carry on over the connection between the plane and the jet way. To my surprise a Flight Attendant caught it for me , asking if I would like some help with my bag. Her kindness after the debacle at the gate caught me so off guard that I started to tear up! She asked what happened and I let her have it! All my frustration with the stupidity at the gate came flying out. The other passengers were staring at me. I felt like an idiot but I couldn’t shut up.

I travel quite a lot. I certainly consider myself a seasoned traveler and usually I handle these things better than this but the whole experience had been one frustration after another. From wandering the airport first for non help at customer service to looking for a working Kiosk…The last straw  was that all they had to do was take my coat out of  the bag for it to fit.  Of course if they did that they wouldn’t have had the chance to go through all of my belongings. I think I felt violated.

This Flight Attendant

I wish I had gotten this attendant’s name because she was wonderful. She let me vent, helped me to my seat, stowed my luggage and offered to get me something to drink!  She checked on me throughout the flight making sure I had the snack they passed out, that I was comfortable and so on. She really went out of her way. It made up for quite a lot. She deserves a commendation!

Concerns

I do have one concern. Before we took off, one of the gate attendants came on the plane. He came right to my seat and asked my name. He wrote it down on a little pad. I asked him if I could now put my coat in the overhead. He just mumbled “of course”, took my jacket and stuffed it over my suitcase.

It wasn’t until later that I began to wonder about that little seat side visit. I wonder what kind of welcome I’ll get next time I fly American. Have I been blacklisted? I don’t mean to sound paranoid but why else would  he come back to the plane before take off and just single me out?

Home at Last

Once I was home I told my story to my friend Joe. He was as outraged as I was . So he grabbed my cell phone, marched me to the porch and piled me high with the contents of my suitcase to show how ridiculous the gate attendants demands had been. Here’s what it looks like.

And to think this was what they did to a senior citizen using a cane. ( Sometimes I forget I’m a senior citizen but that just makes the whole incident worse in my mind!)

American Airlines leads the pack in complaints

It was another busy month for complaints. Readers filed 337 grievances, just a few cases shy of our record 342 complaints received last August.

American Airlines continued its winning streak in the complaints department, claiming almost 11 percent of our formal grievances.

Read more here: http://elliott.org/blog/march-complaints-approach-record-as-american-airlines-extends-lead/?utm_source=sendy&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=elliottsemail

 

 

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American Airlines’ Baggage Police

Whatever Happened to Common Sense?

By the time they began boarding zone 4 American Gate attendants were calling for people to check their carry-ons, especially roller bags. Of course you were to remove all electrical equipment, camera, fragile items, medications, and laptops before checking your bag which could be claimed at the baggage carousel of your destination.

In my carry-on I had 1 laptop, in the front sleeve, my medications, my camera and in the remaining space, the camera strap, computer mouse and electrical cord and a book. Since it wasn’t chock full I had stuffed my winter jacket in too so I didn’t have to carry it. I did not have to expand the bag to make it fit.

I was in Zone 6. As I watched the baggage mafia began going through all the bags they felt did not or would not fit into their little display. Sort of a reverse if it fits it ships. In this case if it didn’t drop in cleanly it went into the belly of the beast. No if, ands or buts.

The Baggage Mafia

It was now my turn. Right away the attendant said “Tag It” and just as quick I said OH NO! I have a camera, medications and a laptop in that bag. They are not going into baggage. They told me to take them out but pointed out that I would now exceed my 2 item limit. I pointed out they would be checking an empty bag. Things were starting to heat up now.

As the baggage police began pulling things out of my carry- on I continued to argue.  I was holding up the line and they could see I was using a cane but it made no difference ! I finally turned to the woman pawing through my suitcase and ordered her to put it all back. She stood there looking from me to the gate attendant and back…stalemate.

I took a deep breath trying to be reasonable. I pointed out that there was a puffy coat in the bag . They could just push it down and the bag would fit. But oh no, you can’t push it down. You can’t “force it”. I tried again. If you take the coat out the bag will fit and you can leave my camera, meds and laptop alone.

Nope, They didn’t believe me.

I turned around, grabbed the jacket out of the bag, zipped it back up and dropped it into their little measuring thing.

Perfect! The gate attendant just told me to take it. So now I have my carry-on, my purse, my cane and my jacket to hang onto as I headed down the jet way.

I got madder and madder with each step.

I’m sure my face was red by the time I reached the plane. There it was an entirely different experience.

I’ll sum it up tomorrow but for now here’s another horror story from a different airline.

http://elliott.org/case-dismissed-2/if-youre-in-zone-5-heres-why-you-should-pack-light/

 

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Oh American, You Let Me Down!

“The World’s Greatest Flyers Fly American” Just ask American!

Yes I’m talking about American Airlines. In recent posts I’ve said how impressed I’ve been with their customer service and friendly manner. My friends who have had ( in their opinion) the misfortune to fly American , have disagreed with me, promising that American will show its true colors and that it won’t be Red, White and Blue.

Well I’m sorry to say that day arrived when I attempted to have a pleasant flight back from Washington DC to Logan Airport in Boston.

Let’s start with the day before check in. All the airlines seem to do that and unless you pay extra when you check in will affect when you get to board, you’re “Zone”, if you will. I usually bite the bullet and pay an upgrade fee to get priority boarding.

Are you Handicapped?

I am not truly handicapped. I don’t have a sticker but I do use a cane if I need to walk a lot because my hip will definitely act up causing painful muscle spasms down to my knee. Experience has shown that as awkward as a cane can be, it does keep me mobile and helps prevent the muscle spasms. Because I’m juggling luggage, a purse (my personal item) and the cane I like to board early.

I checked in right on time on my phone since I was in the middle of the tour. After I returned to my hotel I logged into the American Web site  to purchase a priority upgrade. I was declined. The message was that it would have to be done at the airport. OK, no problem ( I thought).

In Terminal American Assistance

Next morning after a nice breakfast I made my way to the Metro. My stop even turned out to be close to my terminal. I zipped through security and found my gate.  I waited until the gate area had emptied before I approached the attendant with my request for pre-boarding or priority upgrade. To my surprise she first told me she couldn’t help me because it wasn’t her flight!

She must have had 2nd thoughts because she asked for my ticket and tried to enter an upgrade. The computer wouldn’t let her. She told me I would have to go to customer service and pointed out the direction. At least she tried.

I headed over to stand in line there. After several other passengers cut the line I finally reached the customer service attendant who cut me off in mid-sentence. She told me  “they” didn’t handle upgrades anymore and pointed me to a kiosk. I limped over to where she pointed. Out of order. So I went in search of a kiosk that worked.

Once I found one there was no pre-board or priority boarding option. So much for getting help.

I decided to accept my fate, limped back to the gate and with a sigh found a seat.

Once we began boarding I noticed there was no call for soldiers in uniform, no families with children, no one in wheel chairs. In fact zone 3 was boarding before an attendant took a wheelchair person down the sky way!

To Be Continued…

What was going on???? But wait, it’s going to get even worse.

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