You know springtime has officially arrived in the Upper Valley when steam starts to rise from the area’s sugarhouses. And that steam you’re seeing is a sign that the sap is running in the sugar maples and folks are hard at work boiling this liquid gold into one of the area’s most famous resources—maple syrup. This weekend, March 24 and 25, New Hampshire and Vermont celebrate all things maple with their annual Maple Weekend.
Local sugarhouses will be open to the public so you can see just how pure maple syrup is made. Many will have samples of fresh syrup, maple candies, and other sweet treats. Some farms will also host pancake breakfasts, horse-drawn rides, and petting zoos. Best of all, you can buy maple syrup right from the producer.
One of the places celebrating maple season is Mac's Maple
in Plainfield, New Hampshire. They will host their festivities starting at 10 am each day. You and your family can enjoy samples of crepes with real maple butter, raised doughnuts with hot maple syrup, maple cream, maple kettle corn, and maple cotton candy. The sugarhouse will be producing syrup, and you can try tapping a maple tree, painting a pot and planting a maple tree, and going on a scavenger hunt. For up-to-the-minute details, check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MacsMaple/
Producers begin tapping trees in late February, drilling small holes and inserting a spout attached either to a labyrinth of plastic tubes leading to a holding tank or to a metal sap bucket that will be emptied by hand. Then they wait for the weather to bring daytime temperatures in the 40s and below-freezing temperatures at night.
Did you know it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? When sap comes out of the sugar maple tree, it looks and tastes like slightly sweet water. In the sugarhouse, the sap is boiled in a contraption called an evaporator, traditionally heated by a wood fire, though some producers have gone to cleaner-burning oil. When the sap reaches 219 degrees, you know you’re making maple syrup.
Maple syrup is graded according to its color, flavor, and clarity. The longer the sugaring season lasts, the darker the syrup and the stronger the flavor. Grade A light amber, which is produced early in the season, and grade A medium amber are the types used most on pancakes and waffles. Grade A dark amber and grade B are great for use in recipes, though many people enjoy these flavors for breakfast as well.
Many area sugarhouses treat young visitors to sugar on snow—maple candy made on snow. You can also do this at home. Heat syrup without stirring to between 230 and 235 degrees, and then pour it onto a pan full of clean snow (shaved ice also works well). You can make squiggly designs or simple circles. If you pour the syrup at 230 degrees, the candy will be chewy—higher than 232 degrees, the candy becomes hard.
For more information about Maple Weekend and to find a sugarhouse location near you, log on to www.nhmapleproducers.com