A couple of years back, I began research for a blog about the wonders of maple syrup. And to this day we seek out syrup of the B Grade that will soon be called something else because the maple industry thinks something called B Grade or Grade B makes it sound like second tier syrup when in fact it is the best. (1) In the US if you like Grade B you will now need to look for Grade A Robust Taste or darker still Grade A Extra Dark Strong Taste, this according to Maple Source.com that now has consistent grading for Canadian syrup, too. See the full chart here http://www.maplesource.com/markets/industrial-market/maple-syrup/maple-syrup-grades-infographic.php . Phew so glad we’ve got that cleared up. But the fascinating thing about such a simple syrup is that after all my extensive research spanning two syrup seasons, there was still more to learn.
BEN’S SUGAR SHACK, TEMPLE, NH
After testing over a dozen syrups from New England maple producers for last year’s maple blog you might think my teeth would still be aching from that experience and begging me to explore lettuces or wines (well I do the wine thing, too, with a once a month wine tasting club, so you would be partially correct.) But the fact is I still love that syrup for oatmeal, for tea, for coffee, and an occasional spoonful to squash candy cravings (Oh please, it’s not any weirder than you folks who eat spoonfuls of peanut butter and leave the spoon in the sink…you know who you are.)
CONNOLLY’S SUGAR HOUSE/DAIRY FARM*, TEMPLE NH Try the Roquefort cheese!
So this year, 2014, my family hit the road for four New Hampshire syrup producers during the maple high holiday: New Hampshire Maple Syrup Weekend. Our travels took in two sugar houses we’d sampled before (Harding Hill in Sunapee, and Hatch’s in Milford) and deemed to be excellent, and two new ones (big producer Ben’s supplier to Shaw’s supermarkets that uses an oil rather than a wood fueled evaporator, and the tiniest, newest producer Connolly’s Dairy Farm/Sugar House both of Temple NH). You might recall that I reported in the old blog that syrup tastes different to every palate, that it tastes different every season and it tastes different throughout the season depending on how the sap flows. This year the sap hasn’t flowed much at all. Sap needs above freezing days and below freezing nights to really get ramped up and well we keep having very cold days and nights or very warm days and nights so production has been limited. In fact a couple of the sugar houses we visited had just started boiling for the first time for the big weekend that typically represents the end of the season.
HARDING HILL FARM, SUNAPEE NH
Visitor beware – at one sugar house I uttered the ultimate expletive…I said “Tree buds”. You see when the maple tree starts to bud, the syrup starts to become bitter. The syrup folk would hear none of my bud business so I quickly clarified that I saw tree buds in Massachusetts, on non-maple trees just so they would let me complete the tour.
The nine remaining new cool things I learned about maple syrup prove there’s still more knowledge to accumulate.
(2). You can use granulated syrup to make cotton candy, but it has to be mixed with white sugar to spin correctly. There is no 100% maple cotton candy.
(3). There are grants in NH to use a system that captures the evaporated water from the syrup for use throughout the sugar house for cleaning and rinsing.
(4). Warm maple syrup on locally sourced maple ice cream is not too much maple.
(5). On a cold snowy spring day the 1,000 degree evaporator is the exact right temp to keep an uninsulated drafty sugar shack warm.
(6) The dispenser used to pour syrup into the maple leaf candy molds is called a “pig” because that’s what it looks like.
(7). You never tap a tree narrow enough to wrap your two hands around, and when a tree is big enough to withstand two taps, you stagger the height of the taps for optimum tree safety.
(9.) A gallon of sap that looks pretty nearly exactly like water actually weighs two pounds more per gallon than water.
(*). I learned this last year but it bears repeating – it takes 40-gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
(10.) The oddest maple recipe I found was maple almond jello courtesy of the jello mold mistress http://jellomoldmistress.com/2011/11/22/maple-almond-jello/
*Apologies to Hatch’s the only sugar house that used the environmentally friendly water recapturing evaporating process. I have no photos because my camera was dead by the time we reached this our final stop on the 2014 maple syrup foray.
Ben’s Sugar Shack, 93 Webster Highway, Temple, NH 03084
Connolly’s Sugar House & Dairy Farm 140 Webster Highway, Temple, NH 03084 603-924-5002
Harding Hill Farm, 524 Stagecoach Rd., Sunapee, NH 03782
Hatch’s Sugar Shack, 204 Jennison Rd., Milford, NH 03055
Brain4Rent’s Original Maple Blog: http://wp.me/p13Md6-Hg
(c)2014 Photos and text by Alison Colby-Campbell