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Radio Field Trip: Maple Sugaring in South Sutton

In Morning Edition’s new weekly series, Radio Field Trips, we’re traveling across the state to bring listeners stories of New Hampshire life and culture.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley visited his friend  Dave Anderson at his sugar shack in the rural woods of South Sutton. (Click through the gallery above to see photos from their field trip.)

If Dave's voice sounds familiar, its because he tells some of the stories you hear on NHPR's Something Wild. He also has a 40-acre tree farm where he enjoys his hobby of turning sap into maple syrup.

(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)

Dave built his small, wooden sugar shack in his front yard about two years ago after purchasing a wood-fired evaporator from an old sugaring operation in Vermont.

“We’ve been sugaring for years, but this rig, as our evaporator is affectionately called, is new for us,” Dave says.

This hefty metal “rig” has taken Dave’s production scale from 12 buckets to hundreds of gallons of sap. It takes up half the space inside the one-room shack.

The evaporator is fueled by what seems like a never-ending supply of wood. The intense heat boils gallons of sap at a time. Sweet-smelling steam billows into the air as water evaporates from the sap and it slowly turns into syrup.

“People come in here and stand over that pan, and they kind of let it wash over them,” Dave says. “People come in here and they just get into that maple steam. That’s the smell of winter ending my friend.”

Dave says the process of making syrup can be a kind of spiritual experience.

“You’re taking the essence of the tree, turning it into something incredibly tasty and sweet, and then making that part of your own flesh, and blood and sinew,” Dave says. “It’s like taking maple communion.”

With almost 200 taps, this is certainly not a one-man operation. Dave and his family collect and carry heavy buckets filled with sap on foot. They spend hours chopping wood, feeding the evaporator, monitoring the boiling, and then they have to can all the syrup. But Dave says his shack is fairly small in size and sophistication, at least compared to commercial operations throughout New England.

“So we like to say, we may be slow, but we’re inefficient. Or you know, we do things the old fashioned way – like crazy, labor-intensive."

Credit Dan Touhy / NHPR
Dave Anderson grades his most recent batch maple syrup according to New Hampshire standards.

Dave says cooking the syrup the old-fashioned way, for hours over a wood fire, gives it a more robust flavor. This is how many backyard sugar shacks across the state produce maple syrup –on a small scale with family and friends. Dave regularly invites visitors who are interested in starting their own sugar shacks. Anyone is welcome to take part in the process.

Do you have a favorite place in New Hampshire that you’d like to show us? Send us an email and let us know!

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
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