Sweet as Maple: Sugarhouses of NH/VT
Mar 03, 2016 03:35PM ● Published by Victoria Pipas
Sugaring was practiced in the Northeast from New England to Canada even before those regions were named as such. Native Americans first discovered the wealth of sweetness that several species of maples trees provided, and European settlers picked up the practice when they arrived in North America.
We can thank Mother Nature for our pancake topping. Before winter, maple trees store starch in their woody limbs, and as the temperatures warm leading into early spring (mud season by any New Englander’s reckoning), this starch is converted into sugar that can be harvested from the tree by tapping the sap. The earliest sugaring tools involved a stone to pierce the tree trunk and a piece of reed or bark to syphon sap into a vessel. Later, metal tools were adopted, such as the familiar lidded tin pails any Vermonter recognizes. In more recent years, plastic tubing and even vacuum pumps allow sugar makers to tap trees in a streamlined fashion to collect sap more efficiently. Eventually, though, all that collected sap must be boiled down in an evaporator, resulting in the dense sugary goodness we all know and love.
As for local sugar farms, there are many to choose from in the Upper Valley. First, check out Taylor Brothers Farm in Plainfield, New Hampshire. This year, they started tapping the second to last week in February and are already bringing in enormous quantities of sap (with 5,000 taps out, you can really collect). This family-owned business sells its maple products, ranging from syrup and candy to maple sugars and creams, from its sugarhouse gift shop at 166 Main Street in Meriden. Or you can order their products by mail from their website. While you’re there, pick up some delicious cheddar or Gouda from the creamery; there’s nothing like cheddar apple pancakes with hot maple syrup on a cold morning.
If you’re on the Vermont side of the river, try the Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock. Here you’ll find a luxurious selection of maple goodies, all boiled from the sap of the 6,000 maple trees that grace the property. Try maple cookies, maple roasted nuts, and sweet maple drops, as well as the traditional bottle of syrup and buckwheat pancake mix. You may even like the Maple Apple Drizzle on your desserts, available with the jams and preserves. Sugarbush Farm is a wonderful place to pick up a quintessential Vermont gift box, which usually includes sharp cheddar, local smoked meats and salamis, jams and spreads, and, of course, all things maple. You won’t regret a trip to this farm.
Further up the river, you will find the charming Mt. Cube Sugar Farm in Orford, New Hampshire, a 225-acre farm on the side of its namesake mountain. This small, family-run business is deserving of your patronage. You’ll find containers of traditional syrup, including souvenir bottles with the famous visage of the late Old Man of the Mountain adorning the outside. Be sure to pick up some signature Mt. Cube Sugar House pancake mix for your next Sunday morning brunch too.