I have mentioned before that I grew up on a farm in East Conway, NH. On my family’s farm, we had all of the typical things you’d expect to find: a barn, cows, a silo, tractors, bales of hay, chickens, a couple horses… But one of my favorite things was the sugar house (my brother and I affectionately called it the ‘sugar shack’). It was a small structure on our farm, tucked away in the woods, built specifically for maple sugaring. Every year, the maple sugaring season seemed to pass by so quickly and I’m not sure if it’s because of the amount of work we would do or, well, because time just has a way of passing by so fast! I digress…
Depending on the weather, typically late February or early March of every year, my family would prepare for maple sugaring season. I had the pleasure of helping clean out the sugar shack to prepare for boiling, stacking wood for the fire, and other chores. One of my favorite tasks was tapping trees. We’d put our wooden snowshoes on, hike up the hill on our property and run tap lines that would trickle sap all the way down to the sugar shack. We also had many maple trees that we’d tap the old fashioned way – with a bucket. We’d go around, looking for the same holes in the trees that had been tapped for many years before, re-tap them, hang the metal buckets and attach the lids. My brother and I would race around to see who could tap the most trees.
Once the sap was running we’d ride all around East Conway in the truck with the giant collection tank, grabbing buckets off trees and pouring sap into the tank. Eventually we’d get back to the sugar shack which is where all of the magic happened. Sap was boiled down into syrup and we bottled and labeled it. We’d sell it at our farm stand back at the farmhouse.
Of course the best part about making maple syrup is taste-testing, quality sampling, whatever you want to call it. We’d drink the sample size bottles (half-pints) right out of the bottle, me and my brother. We’d pour warm syrup, fresh out of the boiler, on a cup full of snow and eat it. And obviously we’d pour it on a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or pancakes, or waffles… Just a few of my favorite ways to consume maple syrup. (Confession: I kind of feel like Buddy the Elf, declaring my love of syrup in such a public forum).
In case you missed it, March 23 & 24th was Maple Weekend in New Hampshire. I hope you didn’t miss it, but if you did, keep your eyes and ears open next year! It typically falls on the fourth weekend in March. Sugar houses across the state open up for tours, demonstrations, samples, and other fun. In the Mount Washington Valley area, the 100 Acre Wood sugar house, operated by the Lucy family and located in Intervale, NH, participated in Maple Weekend. They’re open Saturdays & Sundays 11am-4pm during sugaring season so be sure to stop by for a sugar bush tour, cooking tours and free samples. They also sell a variety of maple products including their own maple syrup (try the Grade A Dark Amber). For a list of sugar houses and more information about maple sugaring in NH, check out NH Maple Producers. Although I no longer live on a farm and haven’t for quite some time, I still sort of wish that I did and I still consider maple sugaring season to be one of my favorite things about growing up and living in NH. If it’s possible you’ll catch me sneaking out of my office during Maple Weekend to visit one of the local sugar houses to take in the wonderful aroma of boiling sap and sample a little sugar on ice cream.