By Victoria Davis
As winter turns to spring, maple trees begin to produce sap for maple syrup. Maple sugaring season typically runs for about six weeks from mid-February to mid-April depending upon the weather and location. For a weekend in late March each year, the doors of many sugarhouses are open to the public to share the process of making maple syrup and to savor maple treats. Children — and adults — learn how and where their pancake syrup is made.
One gallon of maple syrup starts out as a whopping 40 gallons of maple sap. There is a tremendous amount of water in maple sap that must be boiled out in order to make syrup. If you taste maple sap right from the tree, it does not have much flavor. But when you boil it down to make syrup, it is divine! In 2014, maple syrup producers in New Hampshire made over 100,000 gallons and Vermont made more than a million gallons of syrup — combined, this adds up to almost half of national U.S. production!
Discovery of Maple Syrup
Native Americans may have discovered maple sap by tasting “sapsicles,” the icicles that form at the end of broken sugar maple twigs. We do not know how Native Americans discovered maple syrup, but there are several legends. One legend tells of an Indian brave who was napping under a tree instead of fetching water. His wife found him there and placed a bucket next to her sleeping husband as a reminder to get the water. When he awoke, he was furious — gathering water was “woman’s work.” In anger, he slashed the tree with his tomahawk and went off to hunt. Later, his delighted wife found the bucket full of “water” and took it home to make dinner. When the angry brave returned home, he was treated to a sweet dinner with a gooey sauce for the “water” was actually maple sap.
Maple syrup has always been important throughout American history. More modern production has increased the number of sugaring operations and maple sugaring is still an important tradition in New Hampshire and Vermont. Many sugar makers now use plastic piping to gather the sap from their sugar “orchards” and deliver the sap directly from each tree to a tank or the sugarhouse. This saves a lot of work and has made sugaring more popular and economical.
Each year at the end of March, local sugarhouses open their doors to the public to provide special treats and show us how they make maple syrup. This is a great time to take the kids to a sugarhouse. There are many sugarhouses in the area, but here is a sampling of some sugarhouses that offer a bit extra.
Taylor Brothers Sugarhouse
Jim, Bill and Rob Taylor operate a maple syrup operation and sell artisan cheese and gift baskets. Their farm is located at 166 Main Street in Meriden, N.H. When you stop by, ask to visit the dairy cows. Contact them at (603) 469-3182 or visit taylorbrothersfarm.com
Valley View Maple Farm
Ben and Gaetane Kezar operate a sugarhouse as well as a gift shop that is open year round. They have a selection of doll furniture and clothing that will delight your little darling. During Maple Weekend, they offer treats such as maple milk, maple ice cream, baked beans, maple popcorn and, of course, a shot of maple syrup. You can find the farm at 834 New London Road (Route 114) in Springfield, N.H. Contact them at (603) 763-5661 or visit valleyviewmaplefarm.com.
Sugarbush Cheese and Maple Farm
Lawrence and Elizabeth Luce run a farm that includes a sugarhouse. Go snowshoeing on a trail into the sugar bush, pick up a selection of cheeses and taste the maple syrup. During warmer months the Luce farm is open to the public to visit their farm animals and see the cheese packing operation. They are located at 591 Sugarbush Farm Road in Woodstock, Vt. Contact them at (800) 281-1757 or visit sugarbushfarm.com.
Visiting a Sugarhouse
Visiting a sugarhouse near home is a real treat for kids. You might prepare them for the adventure by picking up one of several children’s books about maple sugaring at your local library. This will prompt your child to ask questions when you visit the sugarhouse. Sugar on Snow is a lovely book by Nan Parson Rossiter.
There are many sugarhouses in the area where the public is welcome during the boiling season, but you should always call first to make sure they’re open. For a list of sugarhouses participating in the Maple Weekend, go to NHMapleProducers.org and VermontMaple.org
Did you know?
Earlier in the season, the syrup flavor is more delicate and the color is lighter. Later in the season, the syrup becomes darker and has a stronger maple flavor. Many people prefer darker syrup for cooking or as table syrup due to its intense flavor.