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What Do You Know About Maple Syrup? Sugar Shacks, Farms and Pancake Houses Welcome Visitors to Maple Weekend

3-28-14MAPLE-SYRUP-COVER3-2014

By Eva Potter

The second of two Maple Weekends is taking place all over the countryside this Saturday and Sunday, March 29–30, and admission is free.

More than 100 maple producers across the state will open their sugar shacks, farms and pancake houses to welcome visitors eager to taste the sugary nectar used to create all things maple including syrup, candy, doughnuts, cotton candy, salad dressings, jack wax and more.

You can look forward to tours, activities, demonstrations, horse-drawn wagon rides, tree tapping demonstrations and a variety of foods including some mighty fine pancake breakfasts (at an additional charge).

Maple Weekend takes place snow, rain or shine, so please dress accordingly as some of the attractions are outside. Activities take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., both days.

How It’s Made

As the second largest maple producer in the U.S. behind Vermont, New York state has a reputation of producing some of the best quality syrup in the world.

Randy Sprague, co-owner of Sprague’s Maple Farms in Portville, has been sugaring — making maple syrup — for more than 40 years. When you take a ride to Sprague’s for some amazing pancakes and waffles, you can see the state-of-the-art production process through open windows in the long hallway leading to the restaurant.

The Sprague’s facility uses an evaporator to remove at least 75 percent of the sap’s water content, before it’s boiled down to the desired concentration.

“It’s capable of processing a little over 4,000 gallons of sap per hour,” said Sprague of his setup.

He said it takes about 45-50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, depending on the sugar concentration of the sap, which varies day to day throughout the season.

Sprague said, “Real early this season, our sugar concentrates have been quite low.”

He explained these levels gradually rise, level off and then drop off at the end of the season, which is only about a month long.

Once it is produced, syrup is graded—U.S. Grade A (light, medium, dark) and Grade B (darker with a stronger flavor, great for cooking.)

The quantity of each grade produced each season varies. Weather conditions, the quality of the sap and bacteria all affect each season’s batch, so every year is a little different.

Price of Liquid Gold

If you’ve ever purchased pure maple syrup, you know that it’s not exactly inexpensive, but you definitely get what you pay for. Agricultural products tend to fluctuate in price, but the price of maple syrup remains fairly stable from year to year. That’s because “maple banks,” huge warehouses mostly located in Canada, store excess production from producers all over North America.

Sprague said, “It’s constantly rotated in and out, and on years when there’s more demand than there is supply, they rotate out of these warehouses and it helps to keep the price of maple syrup fairly stable. So you’re not apt to see a real big spike in price.”

Long-Lived Production 

With more than 30,000 taps — holes no larger than 5/16 inch — Sprague’s is capable of making what they need here each year. It takes about a month for a tapping crew of six to eight to place them each year.

“We’re very conservative in our tapping. The capacity of a maple tree to produce sap is pretty considerable, so we take a very, very small portion of the sap of the tree and it’s really not enough to jeopardize the health of the tree,” said Sprague.

Trees are normally 10–12 inches in diameter, which means the tree is about 35-40 years old. Sprague said they also create new plantations every year throughout their property — trees of the future, as he called them — to guarantee upcoming generations will continue to enjoy pure maple syrup.

On Maple Weekend, Sprague’s will offer wagon rides through the woods to the sugarhouse where visitors can see how maple syrup has been made in the area for at least 200 years, taste some maple doughnuts, try some jack wax or sip a little maple Chardonnay (age 21 and over).

Plan Your Route

The following Cattaraugus County sugarhouses are participating in this year’s Maple Weekends.

Boberg’s Maple, 2298 Edmunds Rd., Delevan, (716) 492-3789

Moore’s Maple Shack & Pancake House, 10444 Galen Hill Rd., Freedom, (716) 492-2714/492-3067, www.mooresmaple.com

Sprague’s Maple Farms, 1048 Portville-Obi Rd., Portville, (716) 933-6637, www.spraguesmaplefarms.com

Wright Farms, Inc., 9136 Laidlaw Rd., Farmersville, (716) 474-7474/676-9963, www.wrightfarmsmaplesyrup.com

Gowanda Fire Hall, 230 Aldrich St., Gowanda, pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon and 100 percent pure New York maple syrup, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets costs $7.50 for adults and $5 for children.

For more information, visit www.mapleweekend.com.

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