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!
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.