Snow is still everywhere in the woods, but there’s slush in the driveway. In the morning, there’s a little more warmth to the light. The song birds sing a little sweeter. In March, these little things are a prelude to spring and mark the start of a sweet tradition… maple sugaring season in New Hampshire!
Faithfully returning to the woods every year at the onset of the thaw, New Hampshire’s maple producers tap trees, and set lines and buckets to collect the sweet sap of the sugar maple. Hauling the sap back to the sugar house, they boil it down with meticulous care to make maple syrup. Approximately 40 gallons of sap must be collected to make a single gallon of delicious, sweet, maple syrup. This is hard work. Maplers tough it through the snowdrifts to reach trees marching up hillsides, totter back down with heavy buckets, or climb into the back of a 4WD pickup to pump sap from collection tanks. They work long nights at the boiler: reducing, finishing, filtering and bottling the “liquid gold”. No one gets rich doing this work. Hank Peterson of Londonderry, who runs Peterson Sugar House, on Peabody Row, once told me that when he calculates all his time put into the process, he figures he makes nearly minimum wage. Clearly, this is something that is done for the love of it and for the gratification of keeping tradition alive. Visit Hank and watch his eyes twinkle as he offers you a sample of his fine maple. You’ll get why he does it.
The craft of producing New Hampshire’s maple is celebrated each year by producers all over the state during Maple Weekend, being held the weekend of March 23rd & 24th, 2013. According to the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, 110 sugar houses participated in Maple Weekend in 2012, holding open houses all over the state.
In Londonderry, Peterson Sugar House will host tours, demonstrations and offer samples of all kinds of maple goodies during Maple Weekend. Admission is free. Get there early enough and there’s a chance you’ll get to sample maple walnut ice cream with maple coated walnuts on top. Drizzled with maple, this may be the singularly most decadent sweet ever invented… and its pure New Hampshire.
You’ll see how maple sap is boiled down on a wood-fired boiler. You’ll also see how the syrup is finished and graded by color. Standing in the old sugar house is a pleasure all in itself. New England sugar houses have a simple design that has remained relatively unchanged over the years. Peterson Sugar House is no exception. With its enormous boiler, generous room vents allowing steam to escape and even the way the building naturally tucks into its surroundings, Hank’s place is a classic. To see a sugar house in its glory, billowing with sweet steam and fragrant wood-smoke is to experience a time honored tradition of New England hospitality. Visit Peterson Sugar House for Maple Weekend!