Whole Boisvert family enjoys ‘extreme hobby’ at Journey’s EndBy EMILY REILY
Special to the Union Leader March 15. 2017 12:41PM
At Journey’s End Maple Farm in Pittsfield, maple sugaring is a sweet family tradition.
Co-owners Anne and Martin Boisvert say their two children, Timothy, 1, and Rebecca, 5, have put their personal seal of approval on the clan’s maple syrup.
“My daughter calls herself the ‘official taste tester,’ because she always wants to try every batch of syrup,” said Anne Boisvert.
Rebecca also helps collect the sap — in her own way.
“She likes to help with buckets. She likes to kick the bucket off and catch the sap off her tongue.”
The Boisvert family, along with hundreds of other sugar makers across the state, will have plenty of syrup to sell during Maple Month, March 11 through April 2, and its Maple Weekend, March 25 and 26, hosted by the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association. Participating sugarhouses across the state will offer open houses and samples of syrup, and hold pancake breakfasts and tours to celebrate the season.
During Maple Weekend, Journey’s End will hold a pancake breakfast on Saturday from 8 to 11 a.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.
“Maple Weekend’s a really fun time. Every sugarhouse has a different way of entertaining folks; sometimes some have a huge spread of hot dogs and maple products, fun stuff like that; some will have bands. It’s quite a thing to see,” said Steve Roberge, board secretary for the NHMPA.
Ben Fisk, owner of Ben’s Sugar Shack in Temple and an NHMPA board member, agreed this is the time to take advantage of the best the state has to offer.
“Everyone’s open. Everyone’s giving tours, anyone that wants to be part of it. They’ll teach you how to tap maple trees, how the maple sap comes in, when to harvest it. And you get to sample maple products,” Fisk said.
Journey’s End hobby
While the Boisverts juggle sugaring with full-time jobs — Martin as a machinist, and Anne as a stay-at-home mom — they’ve been increasing the amount of syrup they produce since they updated their sugarhouse in 2006. Besides maple syrup, the Boisverts also make granulated sugar and maple cream.
“Sugaring is kind of an extreme hobby. Six to eight weeks a year, our life is absolutely berserk, and then he goes back to a regular 40-hour week,” Boisvert said.
They lease taps from other farms — about 1,425 trees — to increase their sap collection. They gather it all in a big tank and haul it on their pickup truck back to Journey’s End, where it will be pumped out and eventually boiled down using an oil-fired evaporator and a reverse osmosis machine.
Choosing your grade
Once the syrup is bottled and packaged, it’s up to the consumer to decide which grade of syrup to buy.
Roberge said this decision simply comes down to personal preference. But if you’re still not sure, just sample more syrup.
“At the very least, you’re drinking syrup. It’s just always a fun thing to do. Some people like a really, really dark syrup that has a really strong flavor to it, and some people are really gonna go for that light stuff. So it’s just depends on what your personal taste is,” Roberge said.
Board member Jeff Moore, of Windswept Maples Farm in Loudon, said maple producers can also lead customers in the right direction.
“Tell them what you like to use maple syrup on. They should be able to give you some insight into the preferred grades for those uses. And don’t be surprised if he or she says they put it on everything, because it is awesome!” Moore said in an email.
“I ask them, ‘What is their favorite batch that they made this year?’ Because every day the syrup’s gonna change. The grade of the syrup changes, it may be darker, it may have a different taste to it, a subtle taste,” Roberge said.
Boisvert said it took some time, but she can now differentiate between the subtle flavors that can be found in maple syrup as the season progresses.
“Tasting syrup is a little bit like wine tasting sometimes. You kind of slosh it around and let your taste buds get it, and that’s how you can decide. My husband’s pretty good at it,” she said.
But consumers really don’t have to be syrup connoisseurs — they just need to have a sweet tooth.
Maple syrup’s taste and color is always governed by New England’s fickle weather and bizarre temperature fluctuations, and this year has been no exception.
Roberge said the state may have avoided an abbreviated maple season this year, despite that spate of unusually warm days and cool nights in February.
“If you have a week of weather where it never gets below 40 degrees, then the season gets really shortened that way. That’s really rough. So certainly that hot weather will have an affect on the sap quality and the season itself, but the fact that we’re getting some freezing weather, it’s positive,” Roberge added.
Boisvert said the sharp temperature changes in February simply led to a darker syrup for them earlier in the season, and the rebound in freezing nights can sometimes revive trees to produce a lighter sap.
“Sometimes it sort of restarts the trees’ waking up. When it was like 60 degrees for three days in a row, it really set stuff a little bit earlier. But sometimes if it freezes really hard, like it has the past weekend, it’ll kind of restart that process,” she said.
Journey’s End Maple Farm is at 295 Loudon Road in Pittsfield. Call 435-5127 or visit journeysendmaplefarm.com/ or www.nhmapleproducers.com for more information.