Lifestyle Briefs: Maple syrup prize a sweet win for Exeter school

June 17. 2018 3:02AM

Claire Ahern, left, and Katherine Netishen, students at Lincoln Street Elementary School in Exeter, carry a bucket of sap to an evaporator used to make maple syrup. (Courtesy)

EXETER - Lincoln Street Elementary School students' hard work tapping, collecting and producing maple syrup paid off - their sample earned first place in the statewide Tucker Mountain Challenge.

Organized by New Hampshire Agriculture in the Classroom, the contest tasks students with creating the best maple syrup. Participants had to submit a quart of the syrup in April, which went through a blind taste test. The top three scoring samples were judged again at the New Hampshire Future Farmers of America meeting in May and a winner was selected.

To take home first place, samples had to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for density and color. Density needed to be between 66 and 68.9 percent, and color could range from Grade A Golden (delicate taste) to Grade A Very Dark (strong taste). The closer schools could get to golden, the higher they scored.

Lincoln Street School earned a 68 percent density, 59 percent for color (rich taste) and obtained the highest number of points for flavor over their competitors.

For their winning entry, the school was awarded $2,000, which will be used for supplies and equipment to further expand the sugaring operation.

"Making maple syrup has been a relatively new endeavor for us at Lincoln Street School, and I'm proud of the students and faculty who really dedicated themselves to this process," Principal Drew Bairstow said. "With this award, we'll be able to reinvest in the program to ensure its sustainability going forward."

Students, under the leadership of teachers Keith Schmitt and Hallie Estle, first attempted making maple syrup last year, tapping a few trees in front of the school and using propane burners and turkey fryers to reduce the sap to syrup.

Knowing they wanted to have a more permanent maple syrup program at the school, Estle and Schmit searched for ways to obtain the appropriate equipment. Through a collaboration with the Exeter Elementary PTO and a donation from the Acorn Alcinda Foundation, they were able to purchase an evaporator and sugar shack.

Earlier this year, fourth-graders doubled their efforts, tapping 10 trees around the school that yielded 3 gallons of syrup.

Given the successful season, Estle and Schmitt decided to enter their syrup into the competition in hopes of earning students some recognition for their hard work.

"Over the last two seasons, we've all learned a lot about the maple syrup-making process, and it's been a great experience for everyone at school," Schmitt said. "It's awesome to have earned first place in the Tucker Mountain Challenge in just the second time entering the competition. We got a lot of great feedback from judges, which we'll use for next year's contest to hopefully produce an even better batch."

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