When I was a kid, Saturday morning was the highlight of my week. I would watch cartoons all morning long and get a sugar rush off the Danish pastries my mother would buy for the occasion. Last Saturday morning, I had a nostalgic pang of the ol’ OH MY GOSH IT’S SATURDAY MORNING!!1!11 excitement because one of the maple sugar houses in my town was having its annual open house at 10:00AM.
Just in case you don’t know, maple syrup is made from the sap of the maple tree. In spring, when the trees start to defrost, syrup manufacturers string crazy neon-colored rubber tubing all around their maple trees, and hang buckets to catch the sap that drips out of holes they punch in the trees. Then they boil the sap and, through the magic of transmogrification, it turns into that sticky sweet stuff that makes pancakes so much better.
I had visited a “sugar shack”, as they’re called, once before several years ago, but I was particularly excited about this event because it advertised “Maple chili, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy and Biscuits with Maple butter”. I swore to myself that, to honor the cultural traditions of my adopted Yankee home, I would eat ALL THE THINGS.
This particular sugar shack is actually on my own block, if you can call the long, winding, rutted, frost-heaved (and that’s just the paved parts) series of roads I had to traverse through the rustic town of Twin Peaks to get to it “circling the block”. But basically, if I just took every right turn, I did get there, and afterwards wound up back at my own driveway, so… it was around the block. On the way there, I stopped at the country store on the corner and bought some local raw milk and local fresh eggs. After almost ten years in New Hampshire, it still blows my mind that this is my life now. I mean that in a good way. 🙂
I knew I’d found the place when the dirt road my trusty Subaru had been trundling along for several minutes abruptly became lined with parked cars. I parked at the end of the line and started walking, even though nothing but woods was visible at that point. After a couple of minutes, I saw smoke rising into the frosty sky (although it was technically spring that day, I was fully bundled up in a parka and gloves) and knew I was on the right track.
Finally I arrived at the maple sugar house, which had a festive carnival-like atmosphere. Canvas awnings had been set up to keep off snow/rain and hordes of people of all ages were milling around and enjoying assorted maple-infused treats, all of which were free!! As per my plan, I sampled straight maple syrup (grades A and B); had some maple popcorn; enjoyed a hot, fresh biscuit slathered in maple butter; moved on to maple chili; and then polished off a maple hot dog. It’s a good thing I had planned ahead and skipped breakfast!
I ran into a fellow Porcupine resident of Twin Peaks and we discussed the merits of Grade A vs B syrup (we both favor B, which is darker and has a stronger flavor). There were helium balloons and maple cotton candy for the numerous kids scampering about. An old-timey 3-man country band played and sang folk songs and shanties; I enjoyed their tunes while shoveling the aforementioned vast quantities of food into my pie hole (for tradition, mind you!) and threw a few bucks in their guitar case to say thanks.
After enjoying so much free food, I felt almost obligated to buy one of the maple products for sale; fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who we’re listening to here, my taste buds or my wallet), there were all sorts of delectable goodies for sale. I bought a half gallon of Grade B syrup, a container of maple butter, a shaker of maple sugar, and an Easter bunny candy made out of maple. Stuffed, sticky and happy, with visions of Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Big North Woods dancing in my head, I trudged the quarter mile uphill back to my car laden with my sweet New Hampshire booty.