Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sugarhouse magic: from sap to maple syrup

Sugar maker Brad Presby in his element.
Watching the watery sap of sugar maple trees morph into sweet maple syrup is nothing short of magic. This magic show takes place each spring in sugarhouses nestled into forests throughout New England, including our own sugarhouse here at The Rocks Estate.
Rocks manager Nigel Manley explains how the maple magic happens, complete with fire and billowing steam:
The basics of maple sugaring include boiling sap for a long time until you are left with syrup. Of course, the process is a bit more complicated, and there are a lot of details that have to fit together just right to make sugaring successful.  
When I first came to The Rocks Estate, I watched syrup being made on an old arch (the part of the sugarhouse where the fire is) and evaporator (where the sap cooks down) in the original Electric Plant. As an avid photographer, I captured the equipment on camera. That turned out to be lucky for me, as the following season I had to assemble the arch and was able to use the photographs as a guide.
I had arrived from the UK not knowing what maple syrup was, never mind how to make it. I managed to get the sap lines up and tap the correct trees, but then was tasked with properly assembling the equipment of the sugarhouse. I had a friend help pick up the large back pan of the evaporator and set it in place. The front pan, or finishing pan, was lighter and could be placed easily. The float was a different story: I had to have the sap coming in quickly enough to keep the pans from burning, but not so quick as to be boiled off too slowly, which would create only dark syrup, rather than the more precious light maple syrup.
I managed to get the arch and pans working and actually made syrup, all while explaining to guests what I was doing! Still, something didn’t seem quite right. I finally realized it was my British accent; how can you possibly explain a northern New Hampshire tradition with a strong British accent?
A local sugarer, whose family has been making maple syrup for several generations, came to my rescue. Now, visitors to the New Hampshire Maple Experience tours learn the art of sugaring from Brad Presby, who is secure both in his Yankee ways and his good North Country vernacular.
Visit the New Hampshire Maple Experience this spring, and you’ll meet Brad at our sugarhouse, where he’ll show you the magic that is making maple syrup.

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