The Sweet Winter Flavors of Canterbury
Spend a day meandering along the backroads through the hills north of Concord
It’s a rite of spring, even though it usually happens on a damp, blustery day in March, when crocus and apple blossoms seem a long way off. We take the whole family to Tamarack Farm in Canterbury and wait, stomping our booted feet in the wet snow to keep them warm, for the team of horses to arrive pulling a big sleigh. We climb on and ride through the woods to the sugarhouse. Inside, it’s all steamy, and the smell of boiling sap hangs so sweet in the air that you can taste it. The evaporator is wood-fired, so the sweet steam blends with the fragrance of woodsmoke.
We warm up, sample the syrup, buy a jug to take home and give in to pleas for leaf-shaped maple cream candy. Like picking our own apples, it’s an annual ritual, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world. Unlike some small family maple producers, Tamarack Farm welcomes visitors throughout the sugaring season, not just on Maple Weekend (this year on March 25 and 26). And the horses aren’t just for visitors. This is a horse-powered farm, and the team brings the sap in from the woods, as well as hauling hay in the summer and helping with other farm chores.
Tamarack Farm is not the only maple producer we found while dodging potholes on the backroads. Loudon, the next town over, probably has more maple farms than any other town in the state, with several along Loudon Ridge alone. But we’re exploring Canterbury, so we head to the Canterbury Country Store, a good place to find out what goes on in town. Just by browsing we learned about a surprising variety of local businesses. The store is well-stocked with Canterbury’s own products.
That’s not surprising, as the store itself is owned by the community, which rallied together to save it from closure some years ago. In the months when farmstands and shops aren’t open, the store acts as the community farmers market. We found jams and jellies, herb blends, handmade soap and garlic jelly from Two Sisters’ Garlic. We also learned about the farm’s annual Two Sisters’ Garlic Festival held at the 1777 Clough Tavern Farm in September, when the farm sells garlic sets ready to plant for harvest the following summer.
We found locally roasted coffee too. Unlike Two Sisters’, Granite Ledge Coffee owner Christopher Evans can’t grow his own raw material. He buys top-quality, fair trade, specialty-grade organic beans from farmers in coffee-growing climates worldwide, and tumble-roasts them over a hot fire. He’s come a long way from his first roasting process in an iron skillet, packaged with hand-cut labels. You can buy his premium fresh-roasted coffee at co-ops and at farmers markets in Concord and Boston, as well as at the Canterbury Country Store. You can also buy the jute bags the beans arrive in, recycled as grocery totes.
From the store, we headed north to find more delectable goodies at Fox Country Smoke House. Their tiny barn-board shop is almost as popular with the girls as the sugarhouse, redolent with sweet smoky aromas and filled with smoked ham, bacon and beef jerky. There’s also garlic and red pepper kielbasa, Canadian bacon, smoked duck, maple breakfast sausages and delicate smoked rainbow trout. With the maple creams long gone, the backseat crowd settled in with packets of maple beef jerky in hand (and mouth).
If we’d been in Canterbury on a weekday, then we could have stopped for lunch at The Shaker Table at Canterbury Shaker Village, now home of the Lakes Region Community College Culinary Arts Program. Students serve a full sit-down lunch there on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, even in the winter when the Shaker Village itself is not open. Along with the lunches, The Shaker Table offers culinary workshops that are open to the public. These add to the workshops, hands-on activities and classes offered by the Shaker Village to explore the Shaker traditions of fine crafts and simple living.
We’ll return to Canterbury in the summer, when the Shaker Village is open, along with the farmstands and the shop at Someday Farm. It’s a working alpaca farm, and the shop sells hand-knit alpaca mittens, scarves, hats and socks, along with yarns, felting kits and felted hats. There are also products from the farm’s herb garden, along with jams and jellies — and mustards to go with Fox’s hams.