Romancing the Maple Tree

As springtime approaches each year with cold nights and warm days, it is sugaring time around here. Maple trees are being tapped now and when temperatures are just right, the sap flows.

The nights are cold, the days are … supposed to be warm (over 40 degrees) to get the sap flowing but it’s been too cold for that
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/gardening/A-madeleine-moment-with-maple-syrup.html#BE0D68qEbEbWV5ig.99

sugar houseThe maple sugar operation in New Hampshire is celebrated on Maple Weekend every March by throwing opening the doors of participating sugarhouses across the state and inviting in the public. Some serve pancakes or waffles with maple syrup or they may offer hay rides, but with a grandbaby in tow, we decided to visit the one closest to our home.  Willow Creek Sugarhouse in East Kingston is about a 20 minute drive from us and sounded perfect.

This being our first exposure to sugaring, we were there to observe the maple syrup operation and to learn all we could. Brad Rice and his family own and live on the property at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. The business of sugaring looked like a family affair. We were able to see the pipelines snaking through the woods to large holding tanks, watch the sap dripping in buckets, stand around the wood fired boiling listening to Brad explain the business of sugaring. We introduced our grandson to chickens and chicks, and left with Willow Creek honey, maple covered nuts, maple pancake mix, maple sugar candy. What a way to spend a morning!

Last month we learned that Willow Creek Sugarhouse won second place overall in the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s Carlisle Award.  Boy, do we know how to pick them! This year Maple Weekend dates are March 22-23 and we’ll be there!

Some of our memories of 2013 Maple Weekend at Willow Creek Sugarhouse. Click to enlarge.

      Here is a video of Brad explaining the process of tapping a red maple:

Pass the Maple Syrup…

There are a lot of things we can live without but, along with air and water, pure maple syrup just happens to be on the ‘can’t live without’ list.  A maple syrup breakfast is always the first Welcome Home meal when offspring arrive for a visit and they know to let that warm liquid spill off the pancakes to mingle and compliment the savory foods… eggs, bacon or sausage. Ummmm….

But that’s not all. They might taste the cherished syrup again in baked beans, caramelized carrots, puddings, winter squash or a pork recipe, just to name a few. We do love it…. so much in fact, that our New England daughter and husband, who were married in Gloucester last June, chose Maine maple syrup for their wedding favors.And now we live smack in the middle of maple syrup country in New Hampshire where supplies are plentiful.  The New Hampshire industry produces nearly 90,000 gallons of the amber liquid. In addition, there’s a plethora of New Englanders who produce it just for their own tables.

The season usually begins in southern New Hampshire in late February and runs through mid-April, depending on weather conditions. Ideal conditions of night time temperatures in the low 20s and daytime temperatures warm to highs of 30s to low 40s cause the sap in frozen trees to flow through the tapped holes during the day.

Wikimedia image

This year the weather has the maple syrup producers worried. The winter has been milder than usual and needed snowfall is light. The sap is flowing early. Producers in southern New Hampshire are tapping their trees now amidst some fear that the production time may be cut short by an early spring. It may mean less maple syrup which will mean higher prices for consumers at the market. On the other hand, if the weather holds, it could be the longest season ever. Only Mother Nature knows for sure.

Icy!

Before we know the answers, we plan to visit one or two of the Sugar Houses that are close by in Strafford County and learn more about this ancient tradition that began long before the Europeans’ arrival. And to be safe, we just may purchase a reserve in case of a shortage because how could we exist with an inadequate supply?

Spring Harvest Maple Farm in Barrington New Hampshire provides maple syrup to some of our favorite breakfast restaurants