Local sugarhouses opened their doors to the public on Saturday, giving people a better sense of how much work goes into making a single jug of maple syrup.
Maple Weekend started Saturday, continues today and will be repeated next weekend. It's a yearly event put on by the Upper Hudson Maple Producers Association and other regional organizations to promote the industry. Across the state, maple syrup farms allow guests to come in and observe the creation of their product.
According to Stephen Savage, owner of the Peaceful Valley Maple Farm, on LaGrange Road in Johnstown, more than 40 gallons of maple sap is required to make one gallon of syrup, and the process takes a lot of preparation and time.
Stephen Savage, owner of Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in Johnstown, looks on as Trevor Nilsen, 10, of Johnstown drills a hole in a maple tree for tapping on Saturday, the first day of Maple Weekend. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Jenny Moyer and Kelsey Johnson, in back, both of Johnstown, take a ride on Goober, a Brahman bull, on Saturday at Peaceful Valley Maple Farms in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Vern Duesler IV pours maple sap into a funnel on Saturday at Mud Road Sugar House in Ephratah. (The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland)
According to Savage, sap tapped from one of his nine plots of land with almost 10,000 trees is taken and placed in a waiting tank. From there, it is condensed through osmosis to a concentrated sap. Then he sap is boiled, evaporating any remaining water and leaving just the "sugar sand," which is best described as unfiltered syrup. Next, the syrup is processed and filtered into the final product.
Getting enough sap for syrup can be difficult, depending on the weather. According to Savage, last year's winter was poor for maple syrup due to how quickly the weather changed, causing maple trees to stop producing sap early.
"Last year we were done around the 15th of March," Savage said. "We only got half a crop of syrup."
The following area businesses are hosting Maple Weekend events today and next weekend:?
- Peaceful Valley Maple Farms, 116 LaGrange Road, Johnstown. Call 762-0491.
- Mud Road Sugar House, 278 Mud Road, Ephratah. Call 863-6313.
- Frasier's Sugar Shack, 144 Church St., Lassellsville. Call 568-7438.
- Nightingale's Maple Farm, 4888 Jersey Hill Road, Amsterdam. Call 882-9334.
On average, a maple season lasts roughly six to eight weeks, starting around February and ending around the middle of April, depending on the weather.
"This year has been good," Savage
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said, though he clarified that the weather has been getting a bit too cool at times.
"But it's better too cool than too warm," Savage said.
The time the sap is taken also affects the syrup. According to Brandon Fraiser, of Frasier's Sugar Shack in Lassellsville, depending on the time the syrup is made, the color and taste change. A February syrup, for example, is lightly colored and mellow-tasting, while a syrup made in March could be a dark amber color and a bit more tart, according to Fraiser.
Savage said he started making syrup with his grandfather when he was 14.
"It was something I always loved doing, and I just never stopped," Savage said.
What started out as a hobby has become a side business for Savage and his mother, Barb Kirk. She runs a small restaurant right next door to the maple-processing building, serving breakfast in the winter months on the weekends.
"He loves making syrup; it's like a passion," Kirk said. "We built a new saphouse and store here eight years ago ... After the third year in, we added [the restaurant]."
Passion and family tradition seem to be common motivations for local tree-tappers.
Vern Duesler III, of Mud Road Sugar House in Ephratah, said he, too, became involved thanks to family members. Vern Duesler IV joined his father, who had been maple farming since 1969.
Kirk Hohensheldt, of Canajoharie, brought his son Kevin and wife Renee to the Mud Hill Sugar House on Saturday.
"It's great fun for families," Hohensheldt said. "We think it's great."