Just Maple, and a few goats, at Tilton farm
|Barbara Proulx of Just Maple on School Street in Tilton demonstrates how maple syrup is graded by its coloring as she gave tours of the family's business last Saturday for Maple Weekend. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)|
March 31, 2010TILTON — Plumes of white smoke rose from the sugar shack at Green Acres Farm as Just Maple, the syrup making operation of farm owners Roger and Barbara Proulx, welcomed visitors to the 15th annual Maple Weekend, held statewide by producers of New Hampshire's sweetest resource.
What started out years ago as a 4-H project for their children, the Proulx family now makes a living with their maple products. While a lot of time goes into making their maple products, Barbara said that for her it is a labor of love.
"It's not work if you enjoy it. Work is keeping a house clean," she joked.
Families, couples and even a group of students from nearby Tilton School came out to enjoy the beautiful weekend weather and learn the process of making syrup.
Proulx lead groups around the farm where she demonstrated the techniques used in getting the sap from the tree to the sugarhouse. While hand drilling holes for taps is a time-consuming process, the Proulx's now use electric drills to get the taps and lines set in their trees.
"Properly set, you won't hurt the trees," she explained as she stood before an ancient maple in front of the barn.
At Green Acres they have been using their trees to get sap for fifteen years now. Lines put together like "tinker toys" deposit the sap into large holding tanks throughout the property, which are in turn emptied by pumps into a truck to transport it all to the evaporators in the sugar house.
Leading the tour across the road, she took everyone inside the family's new sugarhouse, rebuilt this year. There, husband Roger Proulx and family friend Gerry Davis were busy stoking the wood stove and keeping an eye on the sap as it slowly worked its way through the evaporator.
Roger Proulx held a hydrometer for everyone to see and explained it was used to measure the sugar content of the syrup. As the sap boils and the water evaporates, the liquid becomes thicker and thicker until, when a measured amount is placed in a cylindrical tube, it holds the hydrometer aloft at a specific level.
"This measures how much sugar is left. The redline on here says it's 66.6 percent sugar when it reaches the top (of the container) and that's when we know it's syrup," he explained.
Everyone was treated to a sampling of the freshly made syrup as they enjoyed the warmth of the fire and watched the sap in its steady rolling boil.
Proulx explained that syrup, once boiled off, is filtered to remove any niter ("tree dirt") and finished off for bottling inside the kitchen of their farmhouse.
The Desmaris family from Franklin toted along their newborn son Jaxon and 3-year-old daughter Deanna, who enjoyed the outing. It was a great family event, they said, and a good chance to enjoy the nice weather.
While warmer temperatures meant the sugaring season was not as long or successful as some would have liked, Maple Weekend was a big hit at Green Acres. Even though the sap didn't run as it has in years past, there were still plenty of bottles of syrup and other maple-based products available in Just Maple's cozy gift shop. Barbara Proulx keeps the shop supplied with popular goodies like maple covered nuts.
"I started with just three kinds of nuts and people just kept asking for more," she said.
Almonds, cashews, walnuts and others were all bagged and available for purchase. She also concocted her very own maple flavored kettle corn. After enjoying kettle popped corn at the theater, she wondered how she could make it at home without the white sugar to sweeten it and came up with the idea of using maple. Her recipe was appreciated by many as visitors sampled the treat and bought more to take home.
After browsing the shop and purchasing treats and gifts to take home, visitors were invited to check out their herd of goats in the pen beside the large barn. Roger Proulx joked that the goats were a whole other project, headed up by his daughter. He preferred keeping to his chores in the sugar shack.
Award-winning syrup from Just Maple is available in their shop, along with maple mustard, nuts and popcorn, barbecue sauces, maple cream and maple candies, aromatic maple scented candles, Christmas ornaments, goat milk soap, wedding favors and other unique gifts.
Their Web site, www.justmaple.com has an online catalog where people can place an order or they can call 520-2373 with any questions.