By Helen Brody (March 19, 2014)
“Honey, I just want to grow pumpkins and make syrup,” says Dave Richards in the sugarhouse of his Grant Family Pond View Farm in Weare. “But Dave,” responds wife Kate, who handles the business and marketing side of things “we must take time to pay the bills.” But, during the spring and fall, this exuberant red head who is in love with his syrup and pumpkins, wants only to be in the woods tapping trees and boiling syrup or later in the spring planting pumpkins in the field.
He is a member of the multi-generational Grant family which has owned over 100 acres of hilly Hillsborough County land since the late 1800’s. “Not a flat piece of land on this whole property” is the way he describes it.
Great grandfather Al Grant in the early 1900s built the original sugar house from “old bits and pieces” of wood and pine salvaged from an old bridge in town.
By 2000, the original sugar house was becoming noticeably rag tag and unsafe with outdated boiling equipment, so the family decided to enter the new century by building an up-to-date sugar shack. Following the traditions of those who respect the land, friends and neighbors helped the family demolish the relic and build the new sugar house in the image of the original. Even the cupola, once used for letting off steam from the boiling sap and no longer necessary, stands atop the new building surrounded by the chimneys that replaced it.
The addition of reverse osmosis technology increases overall efficiency as it removes a percentage of the water from the sap before it enters the evaporator to be boiled down. The evaporator is no longer wood fired. It has been upgraded to oil, not only to reduce labor, but to provide even heat and a more consistent product. In the sugar bush, the family installed stainless tanks to accept the sap flowing from the newly laid tubing. Like most other sugar houses today, no longer are the tin buckets hanging from the trees for visitors to view as they drive along the road.
Dave began sugaring with his cousin in the 1970s at age 5 and, although family members Bruce Martin and Terry Knowles (who makes their candy year round) do chip in during the season, as of 2001 Dave has managed the sugaring business with Kate’s uncompromising eye on the practical things. In the last several years Dave has had to continue increasing syrup production to meet demand and has, in fact, doubled the number of taps to 2400 with over seven miles of tubing. As with all sugarers, yield of syrup varies depending on the weather.
Dave says it’s not just the drilling of the taps, collecting the sap, and boiling it that makes good syrup, it’s how you care for the sugar maple’s clear liquid after you bring it in. “You let sap sit,” he says “bacteria builds up, and changes occur in the final syrup color and flavor, so we boil as soon as the sap arrives at the shack”. Some folks, he noted, store sap until it is convenient to boil it down, and Dave allows that “it’s still good syrup. Storing for a time just darkens the color of the syrup and strengthens its flavor.”
Most often he is boiling sap by Valentine’s Day. The early sap with a low pH is light and without much maple taste, but as the season progresses the darker color, and richer, stronger maple flavor develops.
A new grading system that gives clearer color and flavor distinctions between types of syrup has been recently approved by the International Maple Syrup Institute. It is already in operation in Vermont and, many believe, will create a better understanding of grade differences by retail and wholesale customers. Golden Color/Delicate Taste (formerly “Fancy”) now overlaps into the old “Medium” to broaden the range and so on through the grades. The new grading system became necessary as greater quantities of syrup were being used around the country for maple flavored products and dehydrated for export. Even though New Hampshire will not be implementing the new system until 2015, Dave purchased a temporary grading kit for the 2014 season from Vermont to become accustomed to the new system.
As sugaring season ends and the ground thaws, he turns to his other passion––pumpkins. Each year his planted acreage increases––it stands at 14, up from 11 in 2013. Today his pumpkin business is all wholesale as he truck his pumpkins around the area. But he has bigger vision – a 20 acre patch that will include a pick your own business with a pumpkin celebration that will match his sugaring weekend open house of 3000 visitors.
Grant Family Pond View Farm & Maple Sugar House
224 Mt. Dearborn Rd
PO Box 508 Weare, NH 03281
Retail: (direct to customer sales)
Grant Family Pond Maple Sugar House (seasonally), Weare, NH
Wholesale: (bulk sales to markets, restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc)