Celebrate the centuries-old craft of tapping trees and making syrup during the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association’s 20th annual Maple Weekend on Saturday, March 28, and Sunday, March 29, as sugar houses from the Great North Woods to the Merrimack Valley region welcome guests for tours, demonstrations and samples.
“Approximately 100 sugar houses will be open,” Robyn Pearl, publicist for New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, said in a phone interview. “It’s a great way to start off the spring.”
Howard Pearl, owner of Pearl and Sons Farm in Loudon and a director for the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, has been a part of Maple Weekend since its beginning.
“My family [has] many generations of maple sugar producers,” Pearl said in a phone interview. “I think it’s a nice celebration of maple.”
As in most years, this year’s event is happening on the fourth weekend of March — usually the “bonanza time of maple producing for New Hampshire,” Pearl said. Given the snowy winter and cold temperatures this month, the season start may be a bit later this year, but Pearl expects a sufficient supply to be ready to go for Maple Weekend.
Throughout the day Saturday and Sunday, guests can stop by multiple sugar houses and farms to engage in activities focused on the maple sugaring process. Each location will offer activities like sugar house tours, tree tapping and sap boiling demonstrations, tractor rides, pony rides and pancake breakfasts, and there will be plenty of maple products to sample and buy.
Barbara and Roger Proulx, owners of Just Maple in Tilton, will offer samples of their maple syrup, maple cream on pretzels, maple jellies, maple kettle corn, maple milk and Blake’s maple walnut ice cream made with Just Maple syrup.
In addition to the more common maple treats, they’ll also be selling maple baked beans, maple boiled hot dogs and maple bean soup.
“It isn’t really a branching out, it’s showing people how they can use it in cooking,” Roger Proulx said in a phone interview.
He said they incorporate maple into meals and snacks not to be unique, but to simply expand the uses for maple. He gave the example of one local restaurant that sources his maple products and uses the maple cotton candy on salmon to give it a “fine, crispy finish” that you can’t get using just syrup.
“You can substitute maple for sweetener pretty much anywhere,” Barbara Proulx said in a phone interview.
A few years ago she heard of someone cooking maple hot dogs and decided to give it a go.
“I thought OK, what the heck, we’ll give it a try,” she said.
To make them, she boils the sap down just slightly before adding the hot dogs to boil.
“It does pick up the sweet flavor they’re boiled in,” she said. “It gives it an interesting taste because of the saltiness of the hot dog and the sweetness of the maple.”
For an event like Maple Weekend, typically she’ll leave the sap simmering all day, so hot dogs made at the end of the day tend to be sweeter than the first batches made with the lightly simmered sap.
Another maple product Just Maple is bringing out for Maple Weekend is a maple bean soup, which Barbara Proulx makes from a recipe her daughter-in-law gave her. Instead of adding honey to the variety of beans and crushed pineapple, Proulx uses maple syrup. She said you could add in ground beef, pork or turkey, but she leaves it out so she can offer a vegetarian option.
Coming up with ideas for using maple in other ways than sugar or syrup comes naturally to the Pearls as well.
“There’s a real movement in recent years to use maple as a natural sweetener,” Howard Pearl said.
Substitute it for sugar, corn syrup or molasses to change the flavor.
Robyn Pearl noted that the darker the syrup, the more strongly the flavor will come through in the recipe.
“There are ways you can take your own recipes at home and maple them up,” said Robyn Pearl, who creates Pearl and Sons Farm’s maple products, including maple sugar, maple cream, maple brittle, maple lollipops and, recently, maple granola and maple marshmallows.
As seen in the March 26, 2015 issue of the Hippo.