March 6, 2008

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The sweet season
Maple is the most delicious sign of spring
By Linda A. Odum food@hippopress.com

There are many signs of spring in New Hampshire. Perhaps the most delicious is the sight of smoke and steam from the sugar shacks that dot the landscape. It’s maple syrup time. The sap has begun to run in the trees, which happens when daytime temperatures are in the low 40s and nighttime temps are in the high 20s.

“It is an old tradition that has been going on for centuries,” said Barbara Lassonde of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association (NHMPA). “The native Americans taught the settlers how to do it.”

After a couple of not-so-great years, producers have high hopes for this season.

“We’re always optimistic that it will be the best season ever,” said Michelle Knowles, general manager at Parker’s Maple Barn in Mason. “The past couple of years have been OK, but not the best. Not as good as other years.”

“We are all tapped in. We’re just waiting for the weather to warm up. Our biggest concern is the depth of the snow. It makes it hard to collect the sap,” said Sue Snyder of Tamarack Farm in Canterbury.

Maple sugaring season lasts approximately six weeks. The process begins in late February, when producers drill small holes into trees and place taps attached either to plastic hoses that run to holding tanks or to metal sap buckets that are collected by hand. The sap looks like water and has a slightly sweet taste. It takes 40 gallons of the stuff to make just one gallon of syrup. The sap is taken to a sugar house, where it is boiled in an evaporator to reduce the liquid into syrup.

“I haven’t drilled a hole yet,” said Don Ross of Rossview Farm in Concord. “We haven’t had the right weather with all of the snow pack around the tress.”

Ross pointed out that the snow has to be melted away from the tree’s root ball for the season to begin: “If the root of the tree is frozen, there won’t be any sap moving,” he said. “This year you wonder when the season will start. The later it starts, the shorter the season.”

Once the season begins, many produces invite the public to watch the process. Tamarack Farm treats guests to activities on weekends, such as maple syrup tasting, horse-drawn rides, and sugar on snow, a maple candy made when syrup heated to between 230 and 235 degrees is poured onto clean snow or shaved ice. Rossview Farm invites people to stop in anytime.

“If there is steam coming out of the window, come on in,” said Ross.

The Beaver Brook Association in Hollis will have its annual maple sugar festival on Sunday, March 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Guests can enjoy Belgian waffles or maple walnut ice cream with maple syrup. There will also be crafts and guided hikes.

This year’s annual Maple Weekend, sponsored by the NHMPA, is March 29 and 30.

“A lot of producers have special events planned, such as horse-drawn rides, petting zoos, band performances and breakfast,” Lassonde said. “In the southern part of the state it will be the end of the season. In the northern part, they will still be boiling for a couple of weeks more.”

Ross plans to offer hay rides, syrup samples and syrup on ice cream on the Saturday of Maple Weekend. He also hopes to have live music, as he has for the past three years.

A complete list of Maple Weekend’s activities will be posted on the NHMPA Web site, nhmapleproducers.com.


Here are a few area sugar houses to explore:
The Beaver Brook Association, 172 Ridge Road, Hollis, 465-7787, www.beaverbrook.org

Ben’s Sugar Shack, 83 Webster Highway, Temple, 924-3177, www.benssugarshack.com

The Maple Guys Sugar Shack, 146 Schoolhouse Road, Lyndeborough, 801-3158, www.mapleguys.com

Rossview Farm, 84 District # 5 Road, Concord, 228-4872

Parker’s Maple Barn, 1316 Brookline Road, Mason, 800-832-2308, www.parkersmaplebarn.com

Maple Butternut Farm, 184 Francestown Road, New Boston, 487-5508

Riley Mountain Maple and Taylor’s “Just Desserts” Maple Products, 1 Jennison Road, Milford, 673-7189 or 673-0042

Hutchinson Family Sugar House, 271 Hackleboro Road, Canterbury, 783-4691

Tamarack Farm, 125 Asby Road, Canterbury, 783-9226, www.geocities.com/tamfarm2001/

Windswept Maples Farm, 845 Loudon Ridge Rd., Loudon, 267-8492, www.windsweptmaples.com.

Go to www.nhmapleproducers.com for a list of maple producers statewide and go to hippopress.com for association provided recipes for maple apple chicken and maple syrup oatmeal cookies.

Days of maple
One now …

Beaver Brook Association holds its Maple Sugaring Festival on Sunday, March 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Maple Hill Farm, 117 Ridge Road in Hollis. The cost is $6 per person, $20 per family. There will be a Belgian waffle breakfast ($2 per waffle and syrup) and Maple Walnut ice cream with real drizzled syrup ($2), and lots of activities for kids and adults. You can see maple-sugaring implements up close, and set a tap using a drill; learn to identify trees in winter; watch a video about native and colonial maple sugaring; work on environmental crafts; rent snowshoes and go exploring; learn about wildlife tracking; take a wagon ride, or participate in a guided hike to the wigwam. Directions are posted at www.beaverbrook.org.

And one later …

Chow down on homemade pancakes topped with pure local maple syrup followed by a variety of family activities designed to explore maple sugaring at the Massabesic Audubon Center, 26 Audubon Way, Auburn, on Saturday, March 29. Taste maple syrup, tap your own tree, and enjoy music and hay wagon rides. Activities run from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 668-2045 to register or visit www.nhaudubon.org. Breakfast and activities cost $17 for adults, $11 for children 3 to 10, $1 for children under 3 (for members, $13 for adults and $8 for ages 3-10).

Maple recipes
To use maple syrup in place of sugar in a favorite recipe, the rule of thumb is to use ¾ to 1½ cups of syrup for every 1 cup of sugar, depending on the sweetness of the dish. Also, decrease the recipe’s liquid by 2 to 4 tablespoons for every 1 cup syrup, and add an additional ¼ to ½ teaspoon baking soda, because the syrup is slightly acidic. Maple syrup caramelizes faster than sugar, so for baked recipes turn the oven temperature down 25 degrees.

Try out these two maple recipes courtesy of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association.

Maple Apple Chicken
Serves 4 to 6
¼ cup butter
½ cup pure NH maple syrup, dark amber or grade B
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
3 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup corn meal
1½ cup apple juice

Melt butter with syrup, cloves, salt and pepper in a 9x13-inch pan in a 400-degree oven. Remove, stir, coat chicken with sauce and roll chicken in corn meal. Return to pan, pouring half of the apple juice around (not on) the chicken. Bake for 40 minutes, basting occasionally, adding more juice as needed. Serve with rice or buttered noodles.

Maple Syrup Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup sifted flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup uncooked quick oats
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup shortening
2 eggs
¾ cup NH maple syrup, dark amber or grade B

Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Add oatmeal and nuts. Mix well and set aside. In a larger bowl, cream shortening, add eggs, and beat until light and fluffy. Add maple syrup and mix well. Add in the dry ingredients and mix well. Drop by teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 minutes.

The grading system
How good is it?

Maple syrup is graded according to its color, flavor and clarity. The most popular grades are Grade A light amber, produced early in the season, and Grade A medium amber. Grade A dark amber and Grade B work best when used in recipes, though some folks enjoy these darker syrups on their pancakes and waffles


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A year of eats

All-you-can-read guide to breakfast
A bagel by any other l
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A picnic — it’s romance with ants
A sweet burst of summer, in stages
Beef, It's What's For Dinner, Lunch, And Dessert
Be it ever so humble, the burger rules
Blockbuster snacks for your movie
Box Of Chocolates
C Is For Cookie And Christmas And Cool Combo
Celebrating A Holiday For The Rest Of Us
Celebrate Easter In A Sugar Coma
Chat And Chew

Chinese soup is magic
Chocolate cake makes everything better
Chocolate, Part II
Competition flows like chocolate
Corn Flake Chicken, Honeycomb Salad
Dining at the "Your House Bistro"
Don't Dread The Bread
Dress Up Your Next Meal
Drinking Out Of The Box
Eating Your Way Back To Health
Empanadas
Enter Soup
Experiments With Very Bad Brownies
Feeding A Crowd The Morning After
Follow the cider house rules
Fresh Herbs
Go ahead — run silent, run deep
Goodbye corn syrup, hello organic oatmeal
Go Indian for Thanksgiving
Grilled Cheese Junkie

Halloween candy for grown-ups
Have a Happy Meal and a happier wallet
Holiday Cookies - The Easy Way
Holiday Potluck 101-Tips For The Kitchen Novice
Home-Based Date
How do you like them apples?
In-A-Pinch Love Feast
It's not easy to be cheesy
It’s not Christmas without tamales
Lest We Forget The Humble Squash
Keeping your cool while you eat
Living through your salad days

Looking Beyond The Hot Dog Stand
Lunching your way to a less toxic you
Meat's meat and a man's gotta eat

Moist and delicious chicken — no, really
Oatmeal Cookies, The Miracle Cure
Oscar Night, When The Stars Come Out To Eat

Offering Up A Slice Of Teriyaki Pie
Pot Pies Are Darn Tasty
Pumpkin-Flavored Treats
Small Plates Are The Next Big Thing
Speedy 'za not pie in the sky
Steak: it’s what’s for dinner, again
Summer coolers, just add sunlight
Summer Squash
Super Bowl Grub
Take A Walk On The Dark Side
Taste of Manchester Event
The Cosmopolitan
The joys of a simple oatmeal breakfast
The return of comfort food
The One-Note Cook Book
The New American Plate Cookbook
The Stickiest, Hottest & Sweetest Of Love's Labors
The taste of retro
The Unheralded Peanut Butter Cookies
The union of sweet and heat
The Weekly Dish (12-16-04)
The Weekly Dish (12-23-04)

The Weekly Dish [1-13-05]
There's a Barbecue Bonanza Next Door
Week Four: Adding Diet To The Mix
What Was Hot And Haute In 2004
When $$ trumps urge to dine out
When in doubt, go for the organic
When nothing else will cool, Slurp it
You Say Potato, She'll Say Potato,Too
You say tomato, writer says lunch