It’s maple sugaring season in New Hampshire, a sure sign that spring is on the way! The weather dictates when sugar season begins, since for the sap to run there must be temperatures above freezing in the daytime and below freezing at night. This New England tradition was begun by the Native Americans, and continues to this day. Sugar houses can be found all over rural New Hampshire, with operations both large and small. New Englanders love their maple syrup, and enjoy it on pancakes, french toast, and ice cream.
When the temperatures are high enough for the frozen sap in the trees to thaw, the sap melts, and pressure builds up in the tree until the sap begins to run. Maple syrup makers tap the trees by drilling holes in them, collect the sap, and boil it down into syrup. Trees are tapped and a bucket set on the trunk of the tree to catch the sap. The farmer then goes from tree to tree in the sugarbush emptying the buckets into a larger bucket to transport back to the sugar house to boil down. (In larger operations, the taps are set up so that the sap runs into tubing that runs between the trees and collects the sap at a central point, saving time and labor).
Once the sap is back transported to the sugar house, it is boiled down over a very hot wood fire, until the water evaporates away and syrup is formed. If you visit a sugar house when they are boiling, when the syrup is finished, they offer around little paper cups of syrup so that you can taste the freshest maple syrup you will ever have. When our children were young, we visited a sugar house each spring so that they could see the syrup being made and have a taste. Another big treat, called Sugar on Snow, is to pour the hot maple syrup on packed snow, where it hardens like taffy and you can twirl it up and eat it, followed by a bite of dill pickle to cut the sweetness. Yum! Our local sugarhouses are open and boiling, so come on up and try some!
The maple syrup that we serve at Chesterfield Inn comes from a local farm in Chesterfield owned by the Mitchell family. Peter Mitchell and his dad make syrup every year, and have it down to a fine science. Bill Mitchell has been making syrup for 70 years, since he was a boy, and it is delicious!