Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Not so Wordless Wednesday- Maple Syrup Season

Buckets collecting maple sap,
a sure sign of spring in Londonderry!

Hank Peterson's Sugar House on Peabody Row

New Hampshire Maple Weekend is March 27th and 28th this year! Over 65 sugar houses will be open to observe, participate and taste! It is expected to be a wonderful maple season this year, due to the generous rains of last July and August when the trees were building their sugar reserves.

Every spring as the sap in the maple trees begins to thaw, it moves up to the tree branches to feed the budding leaves. This happens when the temperatures are below freezing at night, and in the 40s during the day. As the sap flows up and down, from roots to branch tips, the local people of New Hampshire take advantage. Between mid-February to mid-April, they drill taps in small holes in the maple trunks, and draw out the sap.

The length of sap season depends on the weather. A hot spell can end the process of the sap running up and back down to the roots. Too much snow makes it difficult to collect the sap from buckets or tanks out in the forest (a nice stand of maples is called a “sugarbush”). An ice storm, which breaks branches and weakens the trees, can mean that the tree needs a year to recover before being tapped. To fight off an insect infestation, some maples produce a bitter acid, giving the sap a bad taste. But some years are perfect, and produce a full six week run of sap!

The Native Americans first discovered the sap dripping from the trunk of any maple with a hole in the bark. I can remember, as a child, licking the trees after my father pruned branches, for that sweet flavor of the sap. Originally the Native Americans used the sweet sap as a substitute for water when cooking, which left the meat with a sweet flavor. It took the cast iron pots of the colonists to produce the thick syrup, which required a hot fire and lots of evaporating.

The collected sap is boiled in evaporators over wood fires. The steam rising from the “Sugar Houses” signals the process, as the sap evaporates down to golden maple syrup. Forty gallons of sap become about one gallon of maple syrup. This process is called “sugaring off.” The first sap of the season produces Grade A Light Amber, which is the most expensive. Grade A medium Amber has a richer maple flavor. Grade A Dark Amber occurs at the end of the season, with a very dark flavor and robust taste. Grade B is the syrup at the end of the run, used in cooking like molasses. I prefer the darker ambers on my pancakes, and Grade B for baking beans and Indian pudding- two old Yankee recipes!

The New Hampshire Maples Producers Association is in the process of opening a NH Maple Museum in Bethlehem, on the Rocks Estate. Some space was donated, and the displays are currently being completed. The plan is to open March 2010 for the duration of the maple season. There are 1,000 taps on the property, and visitors can sample syrup and maple syrup products. There will be demonstrations of Native American, Colonial and backyard boiling methods of “sugaring off.”

Locally, Hank Peterson is our maple producer here in Londonderry. There are also many families in town producing their own syrup, as evidenced by the sap buckets that appear every late winter in the dooryards. Hank is a past president of the NH Maple Producers, and is still a member of the board. Peterson’s sugarhouse is open for tours when you see the steam coming from the roof, but watch out for the groups of local school children also visiting. Everyone gets a tour and a plastic spoon of sap or syrup to taste!

For more information:

UPDATE March 19 -20, 2011 NH Maple Festival

The NH Maple Museum

New Hampshire Maple Producers
March 19 - 20, 2011 is NH Maple Producer's Open House Weekend

Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

1 comment:

  1. My mother lives up in Colebrook, and she mentioned that it was maple syrup season. Hooray for signs of spring in New England!