Sweet Maple Weekend
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
If you want to make sweet maple syrup, you must have patience. Anyone who has made maple syrup will tell you it is a long process and sometimes you stay up all night tending to the syrup. You watch the weather; you know that certain temperatures and conditions will make for a better season of maple syrup. You learn to tap the trees, you tend to the sap house, you stoke the fire and you do it again and again.
This may sound like a tedious, “who the heck would want to do all that?” process, but the maple producers in New Hampshire love what they do, from opening up the sap house and getting everything ready for a late winter/spring season of maple syrup production to the first bottle of sweet maple syrup they produce each year.
There are a lot of maple syrup producers in New Hampshire, and to promote and bring awareness to what they do, the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association serves as the place to get information.
This March will be the 24th Annual Maple NH Maple Weekend, on March 23 and 24. From March 9 to 31, there will be four weekends of maple fun as well. If you live in (or visit) any part of New Hampshire, you can get out and watch how maple syrup is made, talk to the makers, sample products and generally have a sweet and wonderful time.
Sap houses all over the state will throw open the doors so visitors can step inside and experience the sap boiling process and ask questions. Some of the sugarhouses have been in the same family for generations, such as the Abbott Farm Sugarhouse at 503 Sheridan Road in Moultonborough. Maple sugaring has been happening at the farm for years and is now in its fifth generation, so these folks really know every sweet part of the process of tapping trees, boiling sap and making maple syrup.
At Grandpa’s Sugar Barn on 1375 U.S. 4 in Danbury, brothers Gordon and Brian Ordway have built a wonderful sugarhouse in memory of their parents and grandparents, who were maple syrup producers. Brian and Gordon are the third generation in the maple syrup business and as of press time (late Feb.), they said they will be tapping trees soon. Open weekends in March, they look forward to Maple Weekend on March 23 and 24 when the public makes its way to their doors to watch the syrup making process, to take tours and sample such goodies as donuts and sweet treats. If you would like more information or to schedule a tour at another time, call Brian at 603-455-9545.
In the Tilton area, head to Just Maple at Green Acres Farm for a variety of maple products, and lots of fun during Maple Month and Maple Weekend. Maple syrup production at the farm began over 20 years ago as a 4H project. Just Maple owners Roger and Barbara took a liking to maple syruping and are going strong in the business today! For over 10 years, Just Maple has participated in Maple Weekend and the business is among the most popular on the maple tour. There are tours, free samples, the Just Maple store, information on how to tap trees, and a look inside the sugarhouse where sap is boiled and becomes maple syrup. Just Maple is located at 475 School Street in Tilton; call 603-520-2373.
Robie’s Sugar House and Sawmill at 217 Town Pound Road in Alexandria is a unique place. Owner Brett Robie is in his 14th year of operating the maple syrup house and will be open on Maple Weekend so the public can stop by, see how syrup is made and sample treats. During the warm weather months, Brett operates a sawmill on the property that was originally run by his grandfather many years ago. For information, call 603-455-2171.
These are but a few of the many sugarhouses that will be open during Maple Month and Maple Weekend in NH. Each has a unique story and many have been in families for generations, with maple sugaring traditions and practices passed down over the years.
According to www.nhmapleexperience.com, Native Americans were the first to discover that sap from maple trees could be turned into maple syrup and sugar. We cannot be certain what the process was like those many years ago, or how the discovery was made, but maple sugaring has been going on for generations.
Today, about 90,000 gallons of maple syrup are produced in NH. The season generally runs from mid-February (or a bit later) until mid-April. The process, in simple terms, goes like this: sap in maple trees is frozen during the cold winter and when temperatures rise a bit, the sap in the trees begins to thaw. It then starts to move and builds up pressure in the tree. If you have noticed sticky sap oozing from any cut in a maple tree, this is the same sap that is used for maple syrup production. Ideal conditions for the sap to flow are freezing nights and warm, sunny days, which crate the pressure for a good sap harvest.
If you drive around the state, you are likely to see buckets and plastic tubing around maple trees here and there. This is how maple producers tap the sugar maples. They drill a small hole in the tree trunk and insert a spout, and then a bucket or plastic tubing is fastened to the spout. If you assume the sap dripping from the tree looks like amber or darker colored maple syrup, you would be wrong. The sap at that point is clear. Once collected, it is taken to the sugarhouse and boiled down in an evaporator over a very hot fire. Steam rises and the sap becomes concentrated until eventually is turns to syrup. It is taken from the evaporator and filtered, graded and bottled. It is not a quick or easy process; it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.
Plan to attend Maple Weekend in NH on March 23 and 24 and talk with the experts about how they make maple syrup. You will hear the pride in their voices and share their enthusiasm for maple sugaring, a process that takes patience, diligence and often a respect for an old-time practice passed from one generation to the next.
For information and a list of NH sugarhouses and maple syrup events, visit www.nhmapleproducers.com.