Maple Weekend

Five generations have tapped the maples at Sunnyside

Special to the Union Leader
March 14. 2018 1:29PM
Michael Moore, left, operator of Sunnyisde Maples in Loudon, processes an order for fellow maple producer Chris Kimball of Webster. (Kathleen Bailey)

When Richard Moore’s father purchased a choice piece of land on Route 106 to expand his maple-sugaring operation, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway hadn’t been built and the neighborhood was even more rural than it is now. “There was a bog across the road, and when I was done boiling sap, I’d go over there and fish for pickerel,” Moore, now 83, recalled.

The area has grown since 1952, and the maple business has modernized. But for Moore, his son, Michael, 52, and the upcoming generation, the appeal of coaxing nature’s sweet stuff out of maple trees remains a constant in their work and lives at Sunnyside Maples.

The elder Moore can’t remember when there wasn’t a Moore tapping Loudon trees. He was the third generation to harvest maple, Michael is the fourth, and Michael’s two sons are the fifth.

Richard’s people were dairy farmers, living off the land in another part of Loudon. Tapping trees fit a farmer’s schedule, he said.

“In the spring it’s too muddy to work the fields, too muddy to cut trees,” Mike explained. “But you could still get out and tap trees.”

“Sappin’,” Richard said, “was just another crop in farmin’.”

Before Richard’s generation they used wooden buckets, he recalled. They went to metal in his lifetime, and tubing during Mike’s.

In the family’s first sap house, on the original farm, they boiled sap from about 1,000 trees, he said. When the property on 106 became available they moved the operation there, in 1952, and built a sugar house to hold the evaporator. The location on a main road worked for them, and they expanded the operation.

They now tap 3,500 trees, some on their land, some on other people’s. “We rent trees,” Mike said with a smile. They’ve kept up with equipment, moving from what Richard called an English tin evaporator to stainless steel to the current lead-free stainless model. They use tubing to transport the sap from trees to the sugar house.

And they’ve become amateur scientists, seeking out ways to improve production. Mike installed vacuum pumps for a process he calls “reverse osmosis,” separating two-thirds of the water out from the sap before it even reaches the sugar house.

“It’s based on a system they use on Navy ships, to take the salt out of the water,” Richard said.

They’ve also expanded outward, opening a combined farm stand and gift shop, serving as dealers for sugaring equipment and offering both informal advice and formal classes. The equipment sales have been part of the operation since the 1960s and ’70s, Mike said.

They offer classes for other full-time producers and also for what Mike calls “backyarders,” hobbyists who have a few taps and want to get the most out of them. “We host them,” he clarified, “and professionals do the teaching.”

And they’ve seen an increased interest in the hobbyists and home producers, according to Mike. “It started about 10 years ago, during the recession,” he said. “People became interested in making their own products, from keeping bees to vegetable gardens to tapping a few trees.” Recession relief soon vaporized as the hobbyists realized the true cost of harvesting maple. “They come in here and say, ‘I spent $200 and got one gallon of syrup,’” he said with a grin, adding, “but that’s not the point, and they know it. They got out in the fresh air, they had a blast doing it with their kids.”

A typical day at Sunnyside Maples begins at 6 a.m., when the Moores go outside to check the taps. “Dad does that the most,” Mike said. They’re back in the sugar house by 9 a.m., the evaporator is fired up by 10, and they spend the rest of the day boiling. Running the shop, arranging for classes and shooting the breeze with other producers fits around the edges. “We hope to be done by 3 or 4 p.m.,” Mike said. “It all seems to get done.”

It’s busier on the weekend, with a lot more visitors, “especially if we’re boiling,” Mike said. His twin sons, age 26, pitch in along with wives and mothers. Mike treasures a series of pictures on the shop wall, which show his great-grandmother and grandmother making maple candy; his mother making candy; his sister making candy; and one of his sons making candy. The boys have been in the sugar house since they were born, Mike said, with Richard adding, “We used to put a bed under the table.”

And the men hope to raise a sixth generation under the maple trees. The demand is up for all things maple, Mike said, due to the “buy local” and “buy natural” movement.

“New Hampshire,” he said, “has more of a demand than it can produce. I hope to stay in the business as long as I can — like Dad.”

Sunnyside Maples is located at 1089 New Hampshire Route 106, Loudon, across from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. For more information, call 783-9961.

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