Meet Your Local Sugarhouse: Mapletree Farm’s Dean Wilber
Concord farm focuses on family and tradition
We may be biased, but we stand by the fact that Granite State maple syrup is where it’s at. Visit a sugarhouse and get a closer look at the maple process during New Hampshire Maple Month, held March 1 through March 31. Sugarhouses around the state will open their doors to the public (with masks and social distance rules in place), offering a behind-the-scenes look at how sap becomes the delicious stuff that graces our Sunday brunch tables. To help celebrate this tasty, golden month, we’re starting a series of “Meet Your Local Sugar House” profiles to introduce you to some of the sweet sugar houses around New Hampshire and the men and women behind them.
For our latest profile, meet Dean Wilber. Dean is the co-founder of Mapletree Farm, a sugarhouse that’s been operating in Concord for over 45 years. Read on to learn all about the farm and this year’s sugaring season.
Tell us about the history of your sugarhouse.
Dean Wilber: “Mapletree Farm was started by my family in 1975. I had been helping family members (grandfather, uncles, cousins) make maple syrup since I was 7 years old, and I wanted my own children to share my passion. The first evaporator, a small 2-foot-by-6-foot, was set up outside on the concrete slab that our first sugarhouse was built on. That original sugarhouse was moved in 2017 and repurposed into the current modern sugarhouse that you can visit today. The original sugarhouse remains as the evaporator room in the current sugarhouse with its new and super-efficient wood-fired 3-foot-by-9-foot evaporator.”
What’s the story behind the name of your sugarhouse?
Dean Wilber: “The sugarhouse is surrounded by a planted maple sugarbush (orchard, grove, etc.) and native maple trees as well. The planted sugarbush is mature and currently the largest of its kind in New Hampshire. Some of those planted trees have been tapped since 2008. The sap from those trees runs directly into the sugarhouse. We are truly a maple tree farm!”
What makes your sugarhouse special or different?
Dean Wilber: “Our sugarhouse is very clean and chemical free, and all of our equipment is food grade. Our sugaring operation is a perfect blend of tradition and technology, and we believe that you can really taste the difference. We make maple syrup the old-fashioned way in a wood-fired evaporator without vacuum machines. We use a RO, but not a high-concentrate RO. We are both FDA and ADA compliant with a handicapped-accessible bathroom. The driveway and parking area are mud free. You will not find another sugarhouse like ours.”
What are you best known for?
Dean Wilber: “We are known for our pure maple products. We often receive comments like, ‘I’ve tried maple syrup from (sample sugarhouse) and your syrup is by far the best.’ Some of our customers also drive an hour each way to buy our syrup! We really appreciate customer loyalty. I have worked for years as an industrial safety and health consultant, and also as a food safety consultant to large maple packers in New Hampshire and Vermont. It’s nice to be able to bring my knowledge of maple and food safety to the process of creating the fine maple products that we are famous for.”
What was it about the location that attracted you?
Dean Wilber: “The location was large and wooded, close to Concord, contained large sugar maples, and it was across from Turtletown Pond, a conservation pond.”
Tell us about the most memorable day you’ve had working on the farm.
Dean Wilber: “There are so many memorable days that we’ve had on the farm. I can’t name just one. We have had the honor of hosting several of the governor’s annual tree tapping ceremonies and visitors from all over the world. I’ve enjoyed working with folks from Havenwood Heritage Heights on the Bucket Brigade and being invited to their pancake breakfast. But perhaps I take the greatest pleasure in sharing the maple story with children because many have not seen the old-fashioned maple practices and operations that I enjoyed. If you think about it, it’s STEM at work. We have had kindergarten kids up through college students. One year we even had a group of Australian students in New Hampshire for the FIRST competition. Those students really asked some technical questions!”
Tell us a secret or little-known fact about your farm.
Dean Wilber: “We are located just 5 miles from the Statehouse and just off I93. We are easy to find and welcome visitors. There are nearby hiking trails and Turtletown Pond across the street to provide even more things to do when you visit. We are sometimes called ‘Concord’s Best Kept Secret.'”
Do you have anything exciting planned this season – new products, experiences, or milestones?
Dean Wilber: “Each maple syrup production season is exciting. (I know since this will be my 74th season sugaring.) We are adding more taps in the neighborhood as we enter our 46th season here at this location. Unfortunately, due to COVID, we are unable to host our annual open house and Sugaring Off Party, but we do have plans. Watch for an announcement. People can always call (603) 224-0820, check our website mapletreefarmnh.com, or follow us on Facebook and Instagram to see ‘What’s Sappening!’ The Old Man (me) is always willing to talk maple!
We do have an exciting new product, which is our bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. This is our famous maple syrup aged for at least six months in a charred oak bourbon barrel. My son Chris got us started with this process nearly a year ago after much research and discussions with Wiggly Bridge Distillery in York, Maine, where he gets the barrels from. We opened the first barrel after aging six months last June and the contents sold out immediately. We now offer this delicacy in two sizes, 250 ml and 750 ml. The current batch we are selling was started on National Bourbon Day! Yes, Chris and I celebrated this batch with a toast of bourbon from Wiggly Bridge. It should be noted that no bourbon is actually added to the maple syrup, rather the aging process adds a distinct subtle flavor. Bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup is delicious. It’s a favorite on ice cream and waffles, but the sweet and savory applications are endless. I think some of the meat marinades and glazes Chris has come up with could rival the bourbon maple steak tips that are on so many menus now.”
What keeps you passionate about doing what you do?
Dean Wilber: “There is an old saying that goes: ‘Sugarmakers never die, they just evaporate.’ At 80, I’m still passionate about maple and telling the maple story. ‘Is maple in my blood,’ as they say? Could be, but I honestly think I do maple because I love to share the sweet delicacy and the story behind it with others. That is what keeps me out in the woods on those cold snowy days, or gathering sap in the rain, and boiling sometimes late at night.”
How can people best support you right now?
Dean Wilber: “Spread the maple story. Use more maple. It’s a healthy sweetener that can be substituted for sugar in recipes (just google ‘maple, whatever you want to make, and recipes’ and be amazed at all the recipes online.) Give the gift of maple. It’s a thoughtful and much-appreciated gift. Come and see us at Mapletree Farm and enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.