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Celebrate syrup

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Ken Allen feeds wood into the firebox, while Matt Swain, whose family operates Heritage Farm Pancake House in Sanbornton, watches the shape the boiling sap forms as it drips off the ladle. When it starts to "apron," he said, the syrup is ready. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Area sugar houses are prepared for crowds during NH Maple Weekend

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

SANBORNTON — Matt Swain grew up in a dairy and beef farming family on Hunkins Pond Road in Sanbornton. His grandfather still keeps a few cows for milking but the changing dynamics of the farming industry have driven him, along with most small New England dairy farms, out of commercial operation. The Swain family is still farming, though, and Matt and Rachel’s five children – ranging in age from 3 months to 21 years – will have an economically sustainable operation to take over, should they choose, and it’s all thanks to maple syrup.
The Swain Farm began tapping trees and boiling sap more than 50 years ago, as a side operation to its milk and beef production. At that time, Matt said, his father and grandfather sold their milk for 12 cents per pound, and their syrup fetched $12 per gallon. A half-century later, the bulk rate for milk has only risen about four pennies per pound, yet the Swain family’s syrup fetches more than five times the amount it once sold for. Matt and Rachel, who operate Heritage Farm Pancake House, offer syrup for $18 per pint, or $65 per gallon. Matt said he hopes to produce about 600 gallons of syrup this year, about a quarter of which will be poured over pancakes at the family-run restaurant. Most of the remaining 400 gallons will be purchased by diners as they’re on their way out.
Though the Swains’ sugar house is relatively new, built a dozen years ago onto the side of the home that was converted into their restaurant, Matt’s operation is little changed from the way his grandfather made syrup. He repurposed a vacuum pump from the milking operation to draw sap out of some of his 2,500 tapped sugar maples, but many of the taps drip into galvanized pails. While most of his contemporaries use reverse-osmosis systems to concentrate the sap before the boil, and fire their boilers with oil or other petroleum products, Matt puts his sap directly into a large, 1970s-era boiler that will consume 30 cords of firewood by the time he caps his last batch of the season.
The dedication to wood as his heating source comes at a cost. Although he cuts the wood from his own property, the reliance on cordwood makes his sugaring a year-round task. As soon as he finishes boiling this year, he was begin harvesting trees to fill his woodshed, so that the wood will be seasoned and ready for the 2018 boiling.
Swain insists that the wood comes with a benefit, too. The end product captures a bit of smokiness, he said, which isn’t present when using more modern heating methods.
“It’s like cooking your steak in the microwave, versus over a grill,” he said.
Celebrating their signature product, Heritage Farm Pancake House will be one of the many small producers around the state that will be open for the NH Maple Weekend. Heritage Farm will be open on Saturday, serving breakfast from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., and will offer syrup samples, doughnuts and wagon rides until 4 p.m. Heritage Farm will be closed on Sunday.

 

Visit www.nhmapleproducers.com for details and a full list of participants. Other local participating producers include: In Plymouth, Bridgewater Mountain Maple and Spike's Shack o' Sugar; in Gilmanton, Fillion Maple Farm and Still Seeking Farm; in Bristol, Walker's Sugar Shack; Huckins Maple Farm in Tilton; Shepherd's Hut Market in Gilford; and in North Sandwich, Young Maple Ridge Sugar House. 

Who will be crowned Mr. GHS?

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Gilford High School senior Joe Bonnell rehearses for the Mr. GHS pageant, which will be held on March 15. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — It's one thing to learn it from a book and another to figure it out by doing it. That's why Gilford High School teacher Steve O'Riordan challenges his business students to create and run a business. It's not just an academic exercise, either. Profits from the business are used to buy materials so Dan Caron's wood shop students can make flag boxes given to families of NH Veterans Home residents when their loved one passes. Prior classes have chosen fairly simple concepts, such as putting together brownie mixes for sale around Valentine's Day, or selling sandwiches to offices at lunch time. The current business management class has selected the most ambitious business yet, reviving the "Mr. GHS" pageant, which was held every year for a while, but hasn't been held since today's senior class was in elementary school.

The 2017 Mr. GHS pageant will take place on Wednesday, March 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and tickets will cost $5 for students or $7 for the general public. With formal wear donated by I Do and Men's Warehouse, and flower arrangements by Lakes Region Floral, all of the proceeds will benefit the Veterans Home project. O'Riordan said that, unlike the brownie mix or sandwich businesses, the beauty of the pageant idea is that there are essentially no costs. However, the flip side is that it is significantly more laborious. He has 14 students in the class, and said that all of them are engaged in the business, either in marketing, financial or production departments.

Heading the production side are Sydney Holland, Maccoy Bourgeois, Danielle Clairmont and Alexa Dembiec. The idea of bringing back the pageant, which has typically been as much about humor and entertainment as it has been about anything else, seemed more exciting than more conventional possibilities.

"It's just a great way for the students to have fun, entertaining while raising funds for the veterans," said Bourgeois.

The format of the show is not unlike a typical beauty pageant. However, "Mr. GHS" will place emphasis on humor and charisma rather than appearance. 

"We want it to be a talent show and a comedy show in one," said Holland. "Nothing in this competition is about looks."

The show will open with a choregraphed group dance, followed by an introduction of contestants. Next will be the legs competition – where points will be awarded for creativity, not shape. There will also be a talent competition, a lip sync battle and a question and answer period. Then the panel of judges will confer, and crown Mr. GHS 2017. Contestants have been encouraged to practice melodramatic reactions to the outcome.

All male-identifying Gilford High School students were welcome to apply, and organizers were pleasantly surprised at the number that responded. An original pool of 20 applicants was whittled down to 12.

"We had more guys than we needed to turn out. When the word got out, people got really excited," said Clairmont. "I like how we got people from every grade."

This will be the third year that O'Riordan has been partnering with the shop class, initially with teacher Sean Walsh, now with his successor. O'Riordan got the idea from his daughter, who was working as a social worker at the Veterans Home, who complained about the lack of funding for attractive wooden boxes, into which a folded American flag would be placed as part of a veteran's funeral. He and Walsh figured that if the business students could raise the money needed for materials, the shop students could assemble the boxes, and students in each class could learn about their subject and civic engagement at the same time.

The materials cost about $30 per flag box, and the Veterans Home needs about 60 of them each year.

O'Riordan lets his students pick the business they want to plan, that way they will be more personally invested in its success. While prior classes selected businesses that took a couple of days worth of effort, the pageant idea has taken weeks of work. However, O'Riordan felt the students in his class had the necessary skills and drive.

"I felt like we would put it together," he said, noting that all members of the class are involved in the effort. "It's good hands-on stuff for them."

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Sydney Holland instructs the contestants in the Mr. GHS pageant in a rehearsal. The pageant, which hasn't been held for several years, has been revived by the school's business class. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Tony Bomba's 'fusion-confusion' cuisine wins NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH — The Taste of the Lakes Region is an unusual opportunity for people to sample the creations of some of the area's best food companies. This year, the 27th episode of the annual fund raiser offers a particularly interesting wrinkle – the chance to taste the food of a chef who recently won the NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition, and who will soon be featured on a Food Network reality cooking show.

Tony Bomba, who grew up in Lincoln, knew that he wanted to be a chef from a young age, and when he was in high school, he took advantage of a program that allowed him to intern with professionals. After high school, he started a culinary program but realized that he already knew everything in the lessons. So, he decided to begin his career right then and there.

"I'm not a behind-the-textbooks kind of guy," he said. He got a job as a line cook at Foster's Boiler Room in Plymouth, one of the properties in the Common Man Family of Restaurants, and within a year was wearing a jacket with the word "chef" on it. Bomba, now 24, has now been a Common Man chef for the past six years, and for a year and a half has been the head chef at Lago in Meredith.

On March 26, Bomba's food will be among the others served to guests at the Taste of the Lakes Region, held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. in Church Landing in Meredith. Tickets are $30 per person, and proceeds will benefit the Altrusa International of Laconia club's charitable efforts, which include literacy projects and scholarships.

Bomba is an ascending young chef. The Common Man holds its own internal cooking competitions, fashioned after the Iron Chef television show that started in Japan and has since been replicated in the United States. He's a five-time champion of his company's tournament. So, when he was asked to join the Steel Chef event, held on March 6 in Manchester, he readily agreed.

"I'm all for it, it's good to get your name out there. I was glad to do it," he said. Many chefs from around the state applied, and Bomba was one of four finalists asked to take to the stage for a live cooking event, hosted by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and in front of a live audience measured in the hundreds.

The surprise challenge was to create a dish using salmon, duck and Captain Crunch cereal. The contestants had to break down both the fish and the bird, had only two burners to cook with, and had to plate their dish 20 minutes after the word "Go!" Bomba won, on the strength of a plate that contained pan-seared duck and salmon, served over a risotto flavored with the cereal, cauliflower and mushrooms, and he tied everything together with an orange and asparagus beurre blanc.

As it turned out, Bomba had an advantage going into the event, because it turned out to be similar to the ingredients he was challenged to combine during a taping of "Guy's Grocery Games," a reality television show hosted by Guy Fieri on the Food Network – Bomba said the episode featuring his performance will be broadcast on April 30.

Bomba works in the Common Man's Italian restaurant, and comes from an Italian family. He sees that adjective as a beginning point, rather than a confining definition. Like the early explorers and traders of the great Mediterranean peninsula, he is curious about the flavors and products available from around the world, and he sees Lago as more than a place for pasta and marinara. Instead, he wants the menu to draw inspiration from the travels of Marco Polo.

"My style is very much not Italian," said Bomba. "I grew up Italian, I'm sick of cooking Italian," he said. He describes his favorite cooking as "fusion-confusion" and "culinarchy" – a collision of "culinary" and "anarchy." It's a playful, experimental approach to providing approachable food, best exemplified by the "Late Night" menu presented to bar patrons after the main dinner service at Lago. It includes spring rolls stuffed with apples, brie and sausage, and tacos filled with tuna tartare. When the restaurant rewrites its menu for the warm months, he expects such items to make an appearance on the regular dinner menu.

His daring is also on display when he creates specials. One of his favorites is a direct confrontation to conventional expectations. Could an Italian restaurant serve chicken and waffles, and get away with it? The answer is yes, and yes. Bomba serves Cornish game hen over Amaretto-infused waffles with wilted Italian greens, grilled peaches, and drizzled with a sauce of Gran Maniere and local maple syrup. His diners are up to the challenge, as his version of chicken and waffles has sold out every time he's offered it.

Like the Steel Chef event, Bomba sees participating in such events as both a professional opportunity and responsibility. Not only do participants in the Taste of the Lakes Region donate their time for the event, they also cover the cost of the product they're serving, and all for no material reward.

"I'm all for it. It's good to get your name out there. I was glad to do it," he said about the Steel Chef event. "They raised a bunch of money for the food bank, which was the whole point of it."

Because of the willingness of people like Bomba to donate their talents to put on such an event, the food bank will likely be able to provide a million meals more than it would otherwise. Nancy Mellitt, director of development for the NH Food Bank, said the organization can provide two meals for every dollar raised. Last year's event attracted 380 guests and raised $290,000. While she is still totaling this year's figure, but the attendance figure of 660 leads her to believe that this year's proceeds will exceed last year's by a healthy margin.

To Bomba, having a hand in such an effort is part of the job description, and it's why he's willing to lend his time and talents to the Taste of the Lakes Region.

"Being a restaurant, or any business inside a community, people in that community come in and spend their money with you. You, whether you know it or not, have a responsibility to give back to that community and keep the cycle going."

For more information about the Taste of the Lakes Region, visit www.altrusalaconia.org.

 

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Tony Bomba is head chef at Lago in Meredith, one of the restaurants participating in the Taste of the Lakes Region on March 26 (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun).

 

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Bomba is congratulated by celebrity chef Robert Irvine for winning the NH Food Bank's Steel Chef competition on March 6. (Courtesy photo)

Tamworth Distilling

 

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The 250-gallon copper still at Tamworth Distilling was made in Louisville, Kentucky. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

 

By ADAM DRAPCHO, LACONIA DAILY SUN

TAMWORTH — There was a time when New Englanders made their own booze, using ingredients at hand and concocting blends of flavors to suit the season or to mark an occasion. That's the spirit with which the Tamworth Distilling and Mercantile Company was founded in 2015 by Steven Grasse. The distillery, carefully designed to appear as though it has always been part of Tamworth village, is dedicated to the production of artisinal spirits, made entirely from scratch, and the relentless pursuit of new recipes.

Though it is still completing its second year of operation, Tamworth Distilling is already gaining attention, with mentions in The New York Times and USA Today, as well as statewide media. While it's worth the drive to visit the distillery in charming Tamworth Village, those seeking a nearer opportunity to sample their creations should buy a ticket for the Taste of the Lakes Region, the Laconia Altrusa Club's annual fundraiser and food celebration, which will be held at Church Landing in Meredith on March 26. Tamworth Distilling will be one of the more than 20 food and beverage companies that are volunteering their time and product to offer attendees.

Grasse, who vacationed in the Lakes Region as a child, set his mind to open an artisinal distillery after a career in which he re-branded Hendrick's Gin, and launched Sailor Jerry Rum. He was drawn to Tamworth as much because of its connection to Transcendentalist thinkers – Thoreau wrote about visiting the village – as he was to the abundance of clean water available in the Ossipee Aquifer.

A good source of water is important because, as Sales Manager Jill Anderson explained during a recent visit to the facility, Tamworth Distilling eschews the usual business model of purchasing a base spirit by the tanker truck, then adding other flavors to create a unique product. Instead, Tamworth Distilling starts from grain – corn, rye and barley, all grown on nearby organic farms – which are distilled in a 250-gallon, copper still.

"(Grasse) wanted to open a distillery that got back to the scratch-made philosophy – that we source our ingredients locally, the best that we can," said Anderson. There are some exceptions to the local-source rule, such as the tamarind that flavors a cordial currently on hand. Most of the time, though, Tamworth Distilling's products are New Hampshire in a bottle.

Part of Tamworth Distilling's mission is to experiment, and so, with a few exceptions, each product exists only as long as the bottles remain on the shelf. This winter, the distillery released Skikulbben, an aquavit created to honor the Nansen Ski Club's 145th season. Want to try a taste? Better hurry.

"When the aquavit is gone, the aquavit is gone, and it probably won't be made again," said Anderson. Gin flavors follow the season: Apiary Gin for spring, followed by Floral, Wild Hops and, in winter, Spruce. Flights of fancy are also indulged, such as the black trumpet and blueberry cordial, which balances the sweetness of berries and lavender with the brightness of lemon verbena and earthiness of wild mushrooms.

"It has developed a bit of a cult following," Anderson said of the cordial. 

To the Taste of the Lakes Region, Anderson said she will bring the three products that are available at state liquor stores: White Mountain Vodka, Art In The Age chicory root-infused vodka and Camp Robber, a blend of whiskey, apple brandy and apple cider. She will also bring a handful of other products to show the range of flavors that can be coaxed out of clean water and local plants.

"People are finding a vast difference in tasting something that is scratch-made," said Anderson. "People can really taste it for themselves."

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Matt Power, one of the distillers at Tamworth Distilling, is a trained chemist. Here, he analyzes the different flavor profiles that are distilled out of hops, to determine which flavors to use in gin. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)