Foodstuffs: Award-Winning Syrup Maker Keeps Old-Fashioned Spirit Alive

Jan 29, 2015

Jim Fadden looks at syrup samples at his sugarhouse in North Woodstock, New Hampshire.
Credit Sean Hurley, NHPR

Each year the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association honors the state’s best maple producer with the Lawrence A. Carlisle Memorial Trophy.

This year’s winner is the Fadden family, which has been making syrup for some 200 years, and has been producing on its current location in North Woodstock since the 1930’s.

Jim Fadden joined All Things Considered to talk about the award and the sweet old world of maple.

You've won this trophy seven times, including the last two years. Are you running out of space for these trophies?

Oh no, I like to have the trophies. it's a recognition of hard work - actually, I may get all the glory, but the rest of my family and my employees get equal credit for the effort that goes into acquire these things.

What is it that makes syrup stand out in a state where there's a lot of syrup and a lot of sugarhouses?

I personally think maple syrup is a lot like wines or scotches that are produced in different areas of the world. No two maple syrups, produced at different sugarhouses, are going to taste exactly the same. Ours might taste a little better because of the area in which it's produced, the soils that trees are growing in, the water source. And I like to take a little credit as a good cook.

Your sugarhouse ships New Hampshire-made syrup across the country, and sometimes to other countries.

We daily ship all over the world. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom - probably our biggest out-of-the-United States demand for maple products goes to those countries. We ship some to Japan, Bermuda, Ireland, Germany, France... A lot of those people have been here to the area. They came here in the fall, for example, maybe to experience the changing of the leaves, and they tried the product, took a maple tour, and it seems we've picked them up as customers.

Has that been the biggest change you've seen since you started at the sugarhouse?

Oh, I don't know - there's been more changes in the process in the last twenty years than there was in the previous 500 years. The technology that we're using today - when I was a kid, we'd put out our buckets and we would gather the sap with a horse and a tank that was pulled through the orchard. And then we'd boil the sap later with the use of a wood-fired evaporator and kerosene lanterns for lighting in the sugarhouse.

Today, in our sugarhouse, we have production equipment that more resembles a commercial kitchen than it did the old sugarhouse. In 2010 the federal government instituted the Food Safety and Modernization Act. The old backyard sugarhouses are going to be vastly replaced with all modern equipment that is food-grade plastics or stainless steel for cooking the product, and anything that touches the product.

All the old galvanized tanks and the old fashioned way of collecting and doing things is going to be pretty much non-existent before long. Most of the nostalgia and romance is pretty much a thing of the past now.

Do you think there's a way to retain some of that spirit even with these changes in laws and technology?

I think the spirit's still there. Once you're a sugar maker, it's sort of an addiction. This year you might have 25 taps, and four or five years later you're going to have 2,500 taps. It's in the blood; every year you want to do more. I mean, I might even eat some of it myself, so I want it to be the best product it can be.