Sugar on Snow

It’s one of my fondest childhood memories: the “Sugar on Snow” celebration every spring at my Papa’s sugar shack up on a hill in the middle of nowhere, North East Kingdom.

Unless you are from Vermont, you probably have no idea what half the words in that sentence mean. And friends, you don’t know what you’re missing!

Chewy, sticky, sweet maple heaven. It's #sugaronsnow, and you have to give it a try. Click To Tweet

Sugar on Snow is maple syrup brought up to 235° and then drizzled over packed snow, where it seizes up into a shiny, chewy, almost caramel or taffy-like candy. Most people roll it up onto a popsicle stick or a fork; I usually just pick it up with my fingers and shove it into my mouth. It’s that amazing. The good news is you don’t have to go all the way to Vermont to enjoy it (although if you can make it out for Maple Weekend in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine, or New York, and find a place that does Sugar on Snow, I highly recommend it!). You can make Sugar on Snow and enjoy it like a Vermonter from the comfort of your own home. Lucky you—the hill my grandfather’s shack sat on was always muddy, it was usually cold, and it was a long drive back home after.


Sugar on Snow is a quintessentially Vermont thing, though it’s enjoyed throughout New England and New York (sometimes with a different name. They call it “Jack candy” in western New York!), I introduce it to new friends whenever I get the chance. 

In Vermont, sugaring season usually starts around mid-February or early March, when temperatures rise during the day to above freezing and drop back down to freezing at night. The rise in temps creates pressure, which makes the sap flow. For hundreds of years, people have been tapping maple trees as spring rolls in and collecting the sap. Traditionally this is done in a metal bucket; you drill a hole into the tree, tap in a little spigot, and empty the sap collected in the buckets regularly.

The sap itself—which is now being bottled as “Maple Water” for sale in some stores—is not the syrup that you drizzle over pancakes. To do that you need to slowly boil the sap down until it reduces and thickens. If you’re interested in learning more about the process, or even trying it out yourself, check out this great resource for getting started. 

My grandfather boiled the sap over a big wood fire, a process that lends a deep, rich, smoky flavor to the syrup. A lot of the maple producers in New England and New York, including Cabot Farmers like Missisquoi Valley Farm in Westfield, VT, and Five Mile Farm in Lisbon, NY- and many others, maintain that smoky flavor in the processes they’ve adopted, even though they’re often producing on a much larger scale than my grandfather, who just made syrup for friends and family.


To make your own Sugar on Snow, you’ll need to start with a few key ingredients & tools:

  • REAL maple syrup.
  • Fresh, clean snow (if there’s no snow where you are, I recommend getting some ice and pulsing it in a food processor or blender until it’s powdery). Pack it into a shallow baking dish, or for individual servings, in bowls.
  • A candy thermometer (although I didn’t have one, and just used a meat thermometer. That worked too.)
  • Popsicle sticks, forks…or fingers that don’t mind getting sticky.
  • Dill pickles.
  • Plain donuts. Store-bought are ok, or you can try making your own baked donuts.
  • Cabot cheese!

You may be confused by some of the things listed above. Dill pickles? Donuts? Cheese? What do these things have to do with Sugar on Snow? Well. Everything. The acid of the dill pickles and the butteryness of the plain donuts & cheddar cheese are the perfect balance to the sweet and smoky sugar on snow. These things make the Sugar on Snow experience. It sounds weird, but trust me, these things go together.

Making it is pretty simple. Pour 1-2 cups of maple syrup (a little goes a long way) in a pot (preferably one with high sides, because the syrup will grow as it boils) and bring it to a boil until it is 235°.

 

If you don’t have a thermometer, you could test it by dropping a bit of the syrup into a glass of cold water. If it balls up, it’s ready.

Then drizzle the hot syrup over the packed snow. It’ll seize up almost immediately.

Use a popsicle stick or fork to twirl it up, serve with pickles, Cabot cheddar and donuts—and enjoy!

If you want to try Cheddar Donuts, which make a nice pairing, I recommend the base recipe of these Pecan & Cheddar Mini Donuts.


Dr. Averill (aka <3Ave) is a long-time member of the Cabot team (ca. 2006) and a life-time lover of cheese (the sharper the better!). She’s always been moved by the Cabot commitment to the farmers, our communities, and making quality products. You can catch her on Twitter most of the time, where she leads the @cabotcheese tweeting. When she’s not talking cheese, Averill teaches and studies history.

Comments (13)

Helen Moore | March 15, 2016 | 4:44am

Yes we know. We did all the time, in the spring then with on the first snow and last year’s syrup. Yum.

Rachel Lewter smiln60 | January 15, 2019 | 8:03pm

We rarely see snow here in Alabama but I always have real Maple Syrup on hand. This is definitely something I want to try. It might take a year, but sounds like it’s worth the wait.

    Rachael | January 16, 2019 | 3:17pm

    It’s the best! Let us know how it comes out 🙂 ~Rachael

Jamie | January 19, 2019 | 5:14pm

For those who don’t have a candy thermometer there is an alternative to the “balls up in ice water” test that is much simpler. Boil the syrup until it “hairs”. That is you simply get a spoonful of the boiling sweetness, hold it several inches above the saucepan and pour it back in observing the drips. When it gets to the proper temperature there will be tendrils, or hairs, to the drops as they first leave the spoon’s edge. When these get several inches long (~4-5) it is ready to go. That’s the way my mother and her mother before taught us. (Also works if making molasses pull candy so you don’t over heat and make it unworkable).

It is important not to stir the syrup while boiling, that will make it granular and ruin it. If you put on the snow before it hairs the hot syrup will just melt the snow and go to the bottom of the dish. No worry just kept heating until ready.

Cathy Stice | February 08, 2019 | 9:13am

The pickles and donuts were explained to me as a child, that the pickle cut the sweetness of the “sugar-on-snow”, and the donut cleaned your palate, so you could enjoy more sugar.

Lola Carpenter | January 08, 2021 | 9:34am

I have been in Tennessee for 30 years now and have not had any sugar on snow. This was the most realistic description of my childhood in Vermont in the Northeast Kingdom that I’ve ever read. It brings tears to my eyes to remember all of the good times with my mom and dad at the Sugarhouse. I grew up going to our camp in the woods and they had a very small sugar house that they made syrup and maple cream for family and friends just to enjoy! I do miss those days even though I love it here in Tennessee! Miss my mom and dad most! That was a wonderful description and only somebody who has lived that can describe it that way. Thanks for the memory!

Sharon Haddock | March 11, 2022 | 11:43am

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and never have had the opportunity to experience watching the maple sap flow into a bucket. We visited Vermont in 2015 and learned so much about New England, Cabot cheeses (Now our favorite cheeses) and maple syrup. Cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this article and you can be assured we will be trying “Sugar on the Snow”, even if we have to use bottled maple syrup and wait until next winter to try it!

    Rachael | March 11, 2022 | 12:09pm

    Thanks for the kind works Sharon! We hope your Sugar on Snow experience is a memorable one 🙂 ~Rachael

Norm and Linda Nichols | March 11, 2022 | 9:56pm

Oh the memories you raise! I’m a native Vermonter living in Texas. My grandfather had a sugar lot in southern Vermont that I went as much as possible. I’ve tasted the sap, fueled the evaporator, and tasted fresh syrup. Sugar on snow was a family favorite. Your explanation of the preparation is spot on. We still “import” REAL Vermont maple syrup and Cabot cheese. Just wish you offered more varieties in my area, like Seriously Sharp!

Mary Eileen B Schoen | March 12, 2022 | 9:32am

I’ve had Sugar on Snow since I was a child and read the story, Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’m now 72 and just had some on Wednesday with 2 of my granddaughters, ages 2 and 4. And shortly, I’ll be having it again with 2 more granddaughters, ages 6 and 8. Here in NW New Jersey we are getting our 2nd snow storm of the week. My sister, who lives in So. Londonderry, Vermont said she’s in for some really big snow storm today. And, YES, I always use REAL maple syrup and love Cabot cheese! 🙂

Maryclaire | March 12, 2022 | 10:47am

Here in upstate NY, we call it lockjaw. Just made it last week for the grandkids

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