By Jeff Martin
Few people have good reason to avoid maple syrup. In Western New York come March, few people can resist the sugary nectar, which is prevalent and world famous here in the Empire State.
The celebration of all things maple syrup reach its crescendo on the weekends of March 16 -17 and 23 -24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in most cases, as local producers numbering into the hundreds host open houses and offer a myriad of activities as part of Maple Weekends.
Over at Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda, co-owner Paul Lesefske operates one of the more popular sugarhouses. This year, Lesefske and his brother, Dana, will unveil their new sugarhouse. It’s their first significant expansion in 18 years, Paul said.
“It was time to improve on some things,” he said. “We’ve been in business for a while and expansions are needed.”
Offering over 50 maple-related products, Maple Glen Sugar House will join hundreds of other producers on Maple Weekends by opening its doors for tours, activities and demonstrations. Horse-drawn wagon rides, tree tapping demonstrations and a huge variety of foods will be offered at Maple Glen.
“We want this to be our best Maple Weekends yet,” Paul said.
Boiling the sap for the first time in late February, Paul said it’s still too early to tell whether or not last summer’s drought will affect syrup quality. From what he’s seen so far, the quality looks good, but he’ll know for sure once he starts tapping from the approximate 4,000 taps he has on his property.
Producers are depending on a cold-warm spell to help with the tapping. Just as the cold weather is critical to sap production, so is the warm weather for the sap to run.
And as always, the Lesefske brothers are amazed at the number of people who still, after many years of demonstrating the process of collecting and boiling sap, have no idea how it all works.
“It’s a complicated process,” he said. “As many years as we have been doing the Maple Weekends, a lot of people who show up still don’t know about it. But that’s the pleasure behind it, I guess.”
Maple Weekends is the culminating event for a winter spent tapping sugar maple trees. Because it takes 40 gallons of maple tree sap to make one gallon of pure maple syrup, an event like Maple Weekends is a special time. It gives New York producers the opportunity to sell their product and demonstrate the art of tapping trees, one that Paul and his brother are always eager to share.
“It’s important to show the kids the process because they’re the future,” he said.
As if people need even more reason to eat maple syrup, a 2011 study performed by the University of Rhode Island found that 20 compounds in maple syrup help fight cancer, diabetes and bacterial illnesses. Syrup also contains high levels of calcium and potassium.
As many as 110 maple syrup producers across the state will participate in Maple Weekends, including Boberg’s Maple, a Delevan producer that’s smaller than most but still quality impressive.
Agnes Boberg said she’s looking forward to this year’s weekend event — even if the weather continues to be difficult. All producers are concerned with late February cold because, come March, there is a struggle to get sap to boil.
“We’re needing some help from the weather,” Agnes said. “We’re hoping to have some sap to boil, to be honest.”
Unlike many producers, Boberg’s depends on older equipment to prepare the sap for consumption. It’s one of the charms of place, Agnes said.
Over at Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, Randy Sprague said he’s concerned about the colder weather, but he’s confident it will break. He said he typically has some of the best products in early March.
“Last year was exceptionally warm for this area,” he said. “I think that comparison has worried some folks, but I’m sure we’ll be fine. It’s not a bad situation at all. That’s just the nature of this business.”
With 30,000 taps, Sprague’s Maple Farm is one of the biggest producers in the state. It’s one of the reasons why the producer starts offering activities early, including wagon rides, which begin March 9.
For more information about Maple Weekends and lists of producers in the state, visit www.mapleweekend.com, www.enchantedmountains.com and www.nysmaple.com.