'Sap in your boot'

Mapletree Farm’s new facility honors Meg, maple and memories

Special to the Union Leader
March 14. 2018 1:29PM
Dean Wilber's new sugar house will be open to the public during Maple Weekend. (Kathleen Bailey photo)

When Dean Wilber became engaged to his wife, Meg, he invited her to go into the woods with him to harvest sap. He warned her, “You haven’t been indoctrinated until you’ve spilled sap in your boot,” Wilber recalled.

“She wasn’t out there for 15 minutes before she spilled sap into a brand-new pair of LL Bean boots. She was not happy.”

But Meg stuck with it, learned to “love maple,” and was his partner in the sugar business for 37 years.

Wilber is carrying out the dream for himself and Meg, who died last September, with his new sugar house on the East Concord lot where he’s boiled the sweet stuff since the mid-’70s. The new facility at Mapletree Farm will honor Meg, maple and memories, while explaining the maple experience for future generations.

Wilber, 77, grew up in the Monadnock region and remembers always being fascinated by the maple process. As a boy, he was a frequent visitor to his uncle’s sap house in Springfield, Vt. “Since I was 7, I’ve either been around maple syrup, or making it myself,” he said. He also helped relatives in Surry, riding his bike out to their farm in maple season and even driving the pickup truck at an unsanctioned 13.

He bought his property on Oak Hill Road because it had a strand of maple trees, and built his original sugar house. “I could see the potential,” he recalled. He started with a small evaporator and 100 taps. The “hobby operation” grew to a planted maple orchard and 1,000 taps, he said. He is in the process of installing his fifth evaporator.

Wilber had sequential careers, from managing a Harley-Davidson dealership to working in OSHA compliance, the latter in the food service industry. In food service he learned lessons that he incorporated into his growing maple business, and especially in the new building.

“My equipment is chemical-free and lead-free,” Wilber said. “I’m particular about cleanliness.”

He washes all his tubing, every year, taking a “good three weeks” to clean 30,000 feet. “The bacteria in the lines hardens and dries over the summer,” he said. “When the sap flows, it rejuvenates the bacteria.”

The new facility was both his and Meg’s dream, he said, and he went ahead with it after her death. He moved his original sugar house to another place on his lot, and set about constructing his dream sugar facility around it. The three-room building has screened windows, to keep pests out, and drains in the floor. He has installed an overhead door so he can bring his tanks inside more easily. Tanks attached to the ceiling bring the sap straight from the tubing, through the tanks, to the reverse osmosis machine.

He’s had a reverse osmosis machine for a while and said the process, which separates sap from most of its water, has saved him hours of time. “Meg used to bring me my supper, in the old sugar house, and I’d come back in the house at midnight,” he said of the old days. “Now, I can process the same amount of sap in three to four hours.”

But he doesn’t take out as much water as some other producers, he said, noting, “I think you lose some flavor if you remove too much.”

The technology is better, the process streamlined, but the appeal of maple harvesting is the same as when the original New Hampshire residents discovered they could make sap into something more. “It’s fun to do in the back yard, to watch the sap run out of the tree,” he said. He encourages backyard producers, noting, “That’s the only way they’ll find out how much work this is. It gives them a different appreciation.”

Wilber enjoys visitors and is preparing for a new crop of maple enthusiasts for his Maple Weekend open house. One feature of the new sugar house is handicapped-accessibility, from the rest room to the door sills to the parking lot. “This,” he said, “is a nearly mud-free facility.”

For Maple Weekend he’ll set up his cotton candy machine and a number of free samples on a table in the new facility. In addition to bottled syrup, WIlber makes maple cotton candy, maple cream (“my favorite”), maple-coated pecans and almonds, and pure maple powdered sugar.

And if his visitors are so inclined, Wilber will pass out the recipes he and Meg developed over the years. “The pulled pork was a family effort,” he said. “We worked on it for a year. Meg was from the South, and she loved barbecue.”

Mapletree Farm is located at 10 Oak Hill Road, East Concord. Wilber may be reached by calling 224-0820; e-mailing mapletreefarm@comcast.net; or visiting www.mapletree­farmnh.com.

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