Sugar-Shacking

Photo Mar 23, 2 09 15 PM (Large)This past weekend was Maple Weekend in New Hampshire. Actually part of Maple Month, hosted by the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, sugarhouses statewide opened their doors to the public to share their centuries-old craft. Broken down by region, this weekend was the Lakes Region’s turn – we printed out a list of 23 participating saphouses.

Notice how only the tops of the gravestones are visible!

Notice how only the tops of the gravestones are visible!

This year’s weather has not been kind to the maple syrup industry. For the sap to run you need daytime temperatures above freezing and nights below freezing, and Mother Nature just has not cooperated this year. It has been frigid right into March. Generally we get single-digit overnight temperatures in January … this year it has continued right into early spring. It was 3 degrees when I left for work this morning.

FROM 2013 Photo Mar 10, 2 40 22 PM (Large)So our first stop – Hunter’s Sugarhouse, right around the corner from my house – was a disappointment: there was no activity at all. With 1400 taps it is one of the largest sugarmakers in the area, having been in operation for generations. Our sugar-shacking day was not starting off well.

Photo Mar 23, 3 06 18 PM_ (Large)We visited three more saphouses this afternoon, though, and while there might not have been much sap to boil there were plenty of visitors to entertain. The houses and equipment ranged from state-of-the-art to downright vintage, and all the owners were eager to share the process of sap to syrup. The promotional material for the weekend had promised working demonstrations, tours, maple products, and food; being lunchtime, and hungry, we were mainly interested in the food. We were on a maple mission.

Photo Mar 23, 3 01 54 PM (Large)What the first place lacked in cuteness made up for with the attached bakery. We each bought a chocolate cherry scone (to die for) and had a cup of sap coffee. What is sap coffee, you ask? Sap is collected right out of the bucket – the one hanging on the tree – strained through a piece of muslin, and then added to a coffeepot while brewing. At this point it is the consistency of water. The result is a cup of coffee that is slightly sweet but smooth, not quite like flavored coffee but neither overly sugary nor maple-y. (And I drink my coffee black.) It was good enough that I thought it might be fun to tap a tree on my own next year and see what I get.

Photo Mar 23, 2 04 50 PM_ (Large)

The second saphouse was new and had an enormous shiny boiler that we were told cost $27,000. It was a thing to behold. This place had a display of taps and how they had changed over the years, which was interesting, but even better were the goodies offered in the shed next door. There were all kinds of maple products but what got our attention were the hot dogs cooked in sap! “Maple dogs” – who knew? In the name of experimentation we each tried one, gave it a thumbs-up, washed it down with some hot apple cider, and then bought a few things in their gift shop. There seemingly is almost no end to what you can do with sap.

Photo Mar 23, 3 02 17 PM (Large)The last saphouse was our favorite. We almost got lost finding it – with a GPS, no less – as it was way out in the boonies. But it was vintage, cute, and we were greeted by a pair of dogs. There was a crowd of people there – most of whom knew each other, I think – watching kids slide down a well-groomed snow trail through the woods on a plastic sled. (By the time they reached the bottom of the hill they were airborne.) This place, a wood-fired operation, was chock full of cool old stuff and provided us with a half hour of entertainment, courtesy of the very talkative owner. By the time we left the saphouse was full of steam from the boiler and the maple smell was heavenly.

Photo Mar 23, 2 59 14 PM (Large)The only things missing from our afternoon tour, according to the literature, were sugar-on-snow (which I’m sure we could do ourselves, not lacking snow this year) and some good cider doughnuts. We were happy with what we found, though, and grateful for such a uniquely New England weekend. This time of year, with spring just barely out of reach, it feels good to get out of the house and see what’s under all that ice and snow. And when the sap rises the promise of a new season is not far off.

Photo Mar 23, 3 25 46 PM_ (Large)

 

 

 

 

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11 responses to “Sugar-Shacking

  1. Sorry I missed that. Sign me up for next year .

  2. You live in a really great place! What a fun weekend…hope you warm up soon and can start your gardening!

  3. “Way out in the boonies”? That made me laugh! EVERYWHERE out there is way out in the boonies! Which is why it is all so wonderful. Someday I want to experience the running of the sap in person. By the way, the last picture – with the sun rays – is my favorite. Spectacular.

  4. Now that is something I’ve never seen here in WA State. We have millions of maple trees and are close to Canada, do you suppose I could try to tap a tree? I hope you do tap a tree; that would be interesting. I love the post, it sounds like a fun weekend and even with the dreaded snow still hanging about it made for some beautiful pictures. I like all the different taps from over a century. The bottles of maple syrup in the window make me want to go whip up some chocolate chip pancakes!

  5. Wonderful as always. I think I’d learn a lot about Washington if you moved back here and we went for drives together. I have a pinched nerve in my neck, and I’ve been brooding a bit – thank you VERY MUCH for the delightful distraction, dear Paige.

  6. P, I’ve read many of your “Sap Tour” entries over the years, but this one (by far) was the best. Pictures are great, and the new ideas for sinful snacks are particularly tempting! May your snow & freezing temps be few between now and the end of April! Cheers (from CO), D

  7. Glorious photos! About an activity totally outside my experience – hence SO exciting and inviting 🙂 ! Thank you!!!

  8. vintagefrenchchic

    Love this little day trip. Great photo of the the different amber syrups in the window–love!

  9. Thanks for the marvelous photos !

  10. I soon have it on my list to drink maple sap from a bucket! We use way too much maple syrup on our amazingly yummy buckwheat waffles, but I’ve yet to see a tree tapped! It’s on my bucket list (ha ha).

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