Family tradition: The Hunter family has been producing maple syrup in Tuftonboro since 1850s

By BEA LEWIS
Sunday News Correspondent
March 03. 2018 6:36PM
Steve Hunter adds another piece of wood to the fire boiling sap in the evaporator at his family's sugar house at Bald Peak Farm in Tuftonboro. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)
Maple Weekend March 24-25
The New Hampshire Maple Producers Association will host the 23rd annual NH Maple Weekend March 24-25, when participating sugar makers across the state open their doors to the public to demonstrate the centuries-old craft. Visit nhmapleproducers.com for details.

The door of the sugar house at Bald Peak Farm contains a handwritten record of the date when the sap began to run, when the season ended and how much syrup was made dating back to the 1920s. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

TUFTONBORO -- When maple sugaring season starts at Bald Peak Farm, there is no such thing as a spectator; it’s all hands on deck.

On Thursday, several generations of the Hunter family were helping out.

As Steve Hunter kept a watchful eye on the sap bubbling in the evaporator, his sister, Mary, recounted that when they were kids they got to stay home from school to help their dad if the sap was really running.

New Hampshire has about 300 maple manufacturers and more than 1,000 “backyard” operations, a $200 million a year industry, according to the state Department of Agriculture. Last year, the USDA reported that New Hampshire produced 154,000 gallons of maple syrup, keeping its place among the top five maple states in the country.

The Hunters’ kids and grandkids are working to collect the sap from the 1,524 buckets hung this year. The length of the season is entirely weather-dependent; its end is traditionally signaled when the first spring peepers sing.

It’s a family tradition that dates back to the 1850s on the farm.

Jackie Rollins, another Hunter sister, said her grandmother began recording the start and end date of the season and how many barrels of maple syrup were produced. The neat pencil notations on the front door of the sugar house start with 1926.
Galvanized buckets have not given way to plastic tubing. The Hunter family hung 1,524 buckets this year and expects to produce about 300 gallons of maple syrup by the time the season ends. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)

Jackie has continued the tradition using a notebook, and has included other information about the weather patterns of a particular year. Her records date to the 1960s. She is convinced her grandmother kept a similar journal, but laments it has been lost to time.

Bald Peak Farm typically produces 300 gallons of syrup a year, but back in 1990 the season was so short the farm made just 130 gallons — its poorest yield ever.

Last year, the Hunters made 207 gallons and ended up with some disappointed customers who didn’t made their purchase before the supply ran out.

The farm’s lengthy record-keeping provided ideal information for Martha Carlson of Sandwich. After retiring as a teacher, Carlson became a graduate student who decided to explore whether the declining health she observed in sugar maples on her own farm was linked to climate change.

As part of her studies at the University of New Hampshire, Carlson collected sap samples from a dozen maple producers throughout the state — including the Hunters — and tested it to get clues about a tree’s health.

Carlson discovered that one of the overt symptoms of stress in maple trees was producing sap with a lower sugar content. As a result, it takes more sap today — 40 gallons — to produce one gallon of maple syrup. 

Hunter’s Sugar House is located at 426 Mountain Road in Tuftonboro.
The window of the sugar house overlooks a section of the sugar bush at Bald Peak Farm that hung 1,524 buckets this year. (BEA LEWIS/SUNDAY NEWS CORRESPONDENT)


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