We’re in that sweet spot at the cusp of spring. Winter is still hanging on, but not quite as fiercely. The days are longer and, mostly, warmer. The snow is soft and plentiful on the ski trails, but we’re expecting the crocuses to show their pastel faces soon.
What makes this in-between time even sweeter is that it’s maple sugaring season, and this weekend is the annual Maple Weekend in New Hampshire, with scores of sugar makers — the folks who turn the sap of sugar maple trees into sweet, delicious maple syrup — offering tours, samples and open house events.
There’s a lot that goes into making that syrup we buy by the jugful. For starters, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make each gallon of syrup. There’s a short window of time to collect that sap before the trees leaf out, and the weather has to be perfect: freezing nights followed by warm days.
There’s history to maple sugaring, too. Native Americans collected sap in birch-bark buckets. European settlers boiled it down in iron kettles hung over open fires. Some modern sugar makers still use traditional metal buckets to collect the sap and boil it in wood-fired evaporators. Others string plastic tubing from tree to tree to collect sap, and rely on gas-fueled evaporators to boil it over the long hours it takes to make syrup.
The evolution of sugar making is on display at the New Hampshire Maple Museum at The Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, where Maple Experience tours run this Saturday and Sunday (as well as on April 1). The Maple Experience includes a discussion of the history of maple sugaring, learning how to identify sugar maple trees, a horse-drawn wagon ride through the historic estate, and a tractor-drawn wagon ride to the working sugar house.
There, visitors will meet fourth-generation sugar maker Brad Presby, who demonstrates the process of boiling all that sap into sweet syrup. Visitors may also tour the interactive Maple Museum next door to the sugarhouse, and local chefs give maple cooking demonstrations each afternoon. The cost of the program is $15 for adults and $12 for children; reservations are recommended. For more information about the Maple Experience, visit www.therocks.org. Take a 360-degree peek inside the museum at www.nhmapleexperience.com/pano/.
The Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm in Tamworth hosts its annual Maple Sugaring Day Open House on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visitors here will be able to contrast the old and the new, with demonstrations of both the traditional three-pot, open-flame boiling method and a modern evaporator in the sugarhouse. Visitors may also meet some of the farm’s new lambs and other animals. More information about this free event: www.remickmuseum.org.
Maple Sugar Madness happens at Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center in Laconia Saturday, with hands-on tours that include a walk to the sugarhouse, tips for identifying trees, learning some of the history of sugaring, and a syrup tasting. Preregister at www.prescottfarm.org or by calling 366-5695 and save $2 off the $12 price.
The horse-drawn Maple Express runs through Charmingfare Farm in Candia Saturday and Sunday. Passengers learn the ins and outs of maple trees and sugaring, tour the sugar shack and check out the equipment used to make the syrup, and get to taste the finished product poured over pancakes. There are also farm animals in the barn to visit. A ticket on the Maple Express costs $19; reservations may be made online at www.visitthefarm.com.
For other Maple Weekend events, visit the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s website (www.nhmapleproducers.com), which lists more than 90 sugar makers and sugarhouses celebrating sugaring season this weekend.
Winter Notes is published on Fridays during ski season. Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at email@example.com.