Dubbed the state’s greatest winter fair, the 37th Annual New Hampshire Farm, Forest, and Garden Expo enjoyed a successful, two-day appearance at Manchester’s DoubleTree Hotel on February 14 and 15. Crowds of adults and children, warmed by the promise of spring’s imminent thaw – and despite frigid temps outside — made a beeline for dozens of agricultural and forestry demonstrations from beekeepers to alpaca keepers; farming associations including 4-H, Future Farmers of America, and Northeast Organic Farming Association; equipment dealerships, home-improvement companies, and everything in between.
According to event manager, Amanda Gourgue, the non-governmental affiliated nonprofit is sponsored by UNH Cooperative Extension, the NH Division of Forest & Lands, and the NH Department of Agriculture, Markets, & Food.
“Our mission is to educate the public about agriculture, forestry, and horticulture and, interest is growing,” said Gourgue, who cheerfully noted that backyard farming has markedly increased in the last several years as well as consumer’s desire to improve the dining experience at home with locally grown produce, meat and poultry.
The Barking Tomato, ever on the trail for fabulous New Hampshire food finds, had a hunch the Expo would be the perfect place to find kitchen entrepreneur exhibitors. My instincts didn’t disappoint.
In New Hampshire, maple syrup is synonymous with Spring. And Ben’s Sugar Shack is synonymous with them all. This simple, iconic, sweet condiment lavished on pancakes and waffles – originally discovered by Native Americans – is anything but simple. The next 2-weeks are critical for all makers in the industry.
Emily Sliviak, Marketing Manager, at Ben’s Sugar Shack gave me a crash course in modern-day maple tapping and just how delicate the balance of nature is in the face of global warming.
“We need to hit no higher than 40s by day and a slight freeze at night into early March for optimum sap run,” said Sliviak. She warned that unseasonably warm temps – like a couple days in the 70s a few Februarys ago – brings maples out of hibernation into premature budding which really effects the flavor of the syrup.
Nothing would make her boss, Ben, the Ben, happier than a bumper crop of liquid gold. He’s been “obsessed” – his own description – with making maple syrup since he was 5-years-old. Today, he’s one of the largest syrup producers in New England.
Ben’s Sugar Shack Annual Maple Tours at his Temple and Newbury locations are scheduled from March 7 to April 12, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will learn the syrup-making process first-hand at the sugar house and enjoy numerous maple treats including the classic sugar on snow or maple soft serve ice cream, among other syrupy sweet concoctions. There’s even hay rides for a truly agrarian family adventure. And, of course, all kinds of maple syrup from golden, amber, and dark grades for purchase.
Sliviak estimates that 8 to 10,000 gallons of sap in 2020 would keep prices stable so, I’m hoping for moderate days and freezin’ nights for a couple more weeks. Although a 50-degree, sunny day would feel swell.
For more information: www.BensMapleSyrup.com
Chef Steve Chase – of Steve’s Original Sauces S.O.S. – began chasing his dream in earnest in 2018 after friends kept nagging him to take his homemade Kentucky barbecue sauce to market after they raved about it at a Kentucky Derby party.
But that’s not the whole story. A man of faith, he prayed for God’s approval. In time, he felt an affirmation. Little wonder, Steve shares a testament on his brochure: All things are possible to him who believes. Mark 9:23
Today, his Kentucky Barbeque is sold in over 30 New Hampshire stores and markets and I could taste why. Without spilling too many beans, he told me it’s the only barbecue sauce he knows of that’s fashioned after the famous Mint Julip, the drink of choice for the Kentucky Derby. Hmmm. Well, plenty of sauces have bourbon and brown sugar profiles, Mister. But that kick of mint? Never had that in my barbecue sauce before! Hey, that’s good!
So good that sales inspired Steve to horse around with other winning barbecue flavor combinations which, BTW, comes second nature to this long-time, professional cook. Honey Sriracha and New Hampshire Maple Syrup Barbecue duel for win, place, and show in a lot of kitchens, I’m guessing. The former uses locally sourced honey and sriracha and doubles as a marinade and stir fry sauce. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Salmon? Braised short ribs? Glazed chicken wings?
Steve admits he can’t take credit for thinking up his New Hampshire Maple Syrup Barbecue all by himself. Fact is, a regular customer of the Kentucky Barbecue sorta commissioned him. After careful research and taste tests from some of New Hampshire’s best syrup producers, Steve set to work like the gifted food chemist he is and the result not only thrilled his benefactor but other customers old and new. Oh, boy! Wait until you taste it on ham this Easter, or on any kind of meat, really. Smoky, sweet, tart. I’m betting I could smother a whole bird with this silky sauce on the grill this summer. Or spring.
PS – Steve’s at work on a low-sodium teriyaki sauce. YES!!
For information: www.stevesorginalsauces.com
Let’s get Chris in the mix here. Really. As in Chris Mix, Sweet and Salty Chocolate Toffee of Concord, New Hampshire.
Oh, my! I thought I had had toffee before but Chris Mix is definitely different. There’s the sweet I’m used to and the crunch I know but Chris Gately takes this classic candy traditionally reserved for yule holidays across the pond and stands it on its head with a crunchy cracker layer in the middle and all kinds of sweet and spicy varieties. 10 in all.
My favs? Dark Cappuccino and Maple Vanilla OR Butterscotch Hazelnut. Both have a sweet yet savory mouth feel that lingers ever so subtly. Gately, a graduate of Johnson & Wales Culinary program obviously knows a thing or two about flavor pairings. Just like salt seasons and intensifies the taste of food, he figured out that a dash of cayenne – the tiniest amount imaginable – intensifies the flavor combinations of his toffees. Had he not told me about the cayenne enhancer, I never would have known.
In the biz for 2 ½ years now, Gately’s success has been driven by exhibiting at shows like the Farm, Forest, & Garden Expo, as well as festivals and through wholesale accounts. Ideally, he’d like to transition to full-time candy maker from full-time masseuse/Reiki therapist. If sales continue as they have, it could happen in the not-too-distant future.
For more information: www.chrismixcandy.com
In honor of my family farming roots, I felt compelled to talk to Joe Garcia, a young man representing New Hampshire’s Future Farmers of America Association at the Expo. Founded in 1928, this multi-faceted nonprofit organization is in all 50-states and has over 700,000 youth members.
I told Joe that my father joined FFA in 1950, as well as many uncles and cousins – including female cousins – and asked what he thought were some of the major differences in the organization today. Without missing a beat, he described the technology revolution in agriculture but was quick to note that while the age of data analytics, research, and equipment had been in the hands of industrial farmers for a long time, the real revolution was in modern technology’s relative affordability for America’s small family farms, giving them an unparalleled opportunity to optimize their investment like never before.
And how are they doing it? Through better local marketing channels, using social media, buying or subscribing to online land management programs, using up-to-date software for bookkeeping, livestock health data, planting schedules, and inventory. Holy cow! My maternal and paternal farmer grandfathers – dead since 1964 and 1990 respectively – would not be able to process any of this were they standing in my shoes listening to Joe Garcia.
Joe has his sights set on becoming an agronomist. He wants to work with farmers to help them maximize their land with planting plans and use systems; highly complex applications customized for particular geographical locations, weather conditions, acreage, etc.
I wish him the very best. With the world’s projected population to rise to 10 billion by 2050, it’s going to take a lot of future farmers like Joe to figure out how to feed us. Still, I’m hoping that the small family farm and those backyard gardens keep growing like weeds.
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About The Barking Tomato: Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button.