Folsom's Sugar House

Gathering sweet rewards the old-fashioned way

By BARBARA LEECH
Special to the Union Leader
March 21. 2018 1:12PM
Brian Folsom, co-owner of Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester, examines the color of his latest maple syrup production. (Courtesy)

Extracting sap from maple trees is a task that has gotten easier over the years, thanks to technology. But some families in New Hampshire still approach this sweet harvest the old-fashioned way — with small taps and hanging buckets.

Take, for example, Brian and Sue Folsom, who opened Folsom’s Sugar House in Chester back in 1991. Brian, a retired electrician, puts in 14-hour days during maple sugaring season, collecting 8,000 gallons of sap, essentially by hand. Each day, once the sap begins to run, he travels around his town, collecting his amber bounty from 5-gallon buckets he has hung from more than 500 taps.

“We have made arrangements with 15 different land owners to tap their trees in exchange for syrup. It’s a great arrangement for both of us,” he said. “So, we are spread out all over town, and that is why the buckets are really the best method for us. Tubing certainly would not make it less work in the long run.”

Tubing is used now by many maple sugar producers, a modernized method that involves vacuum extraction of the sap through miles of tubing, which pumps sap directly into a sugar house for boiling.

Popular with those who look for a large harvest and syrup production, it would be nearly impossible for his operation, according to Folsom. Given the wide-spread location of their sugar bush trees and the time and cost required to take down and re-install the tubing each year, it is simply best to do it the old-fashioned way.

So, Folsom heads out in his pickup truck each winter, taking two to three days to install fresh taps into maple trees at 18 to 20 locations on his 25-mile route. He does this by drilling a small hole, about 1.5 to 2 inches, into each sugar maple tree, angled so the sap will drip easily into a bucket. Next, a spile is set gently but securely into the tap hole and a bucket is hung from the spile. Finally, a cover is placed on the bucket to help keep out rain, snow and debris from the trees.

This may sound labor intensive, but it is not where the hard work is felt.

“Collecting the sap is probably the hardest part,” Folsom said about carrying the heavy buckets. “I usually hit the gym a few times before the season starts to try and prepare my muscles for all the lifting. And after the season starts, well, I definitely don’t need a gym.”

In the sugarhouse, sap is stored in a stainless steel 300-gallon tank in the loft, which feeds into the evaporator. This is where the sap is boiled, at about 60 to 70 gallons of sap an hour, essentially boiling off water to produce syrup.

Folsom’s Sugar House makes about 200 gallons of maple syrup each year, but also offers their own pure maple cream, maple candies, maple sugar and maple bricks. In addition, they have created maple-based products like maple BBQ sauce and maple mustard.

Maple Sugar Weekend is Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25, and Folsom’s will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. offering tours, handouts that explain the boiling process of how sap is turned into syrup, and of course, their famous maple ice cream sundaes for $2 each. Your choice of either vanilla ice cream or Blake’s maple walnut ice cream that they make with real maple syrup. Each sundae is topped with fresh maple syrup and whipped cream.

For more information, visit Folsom’s at www.folsomsugarhouse.com or stop by during boiling season at 130 Candia Road, Chester.


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