By Mary Heyl
With more than 2,000 maple sugar-makers statewide, New York has the largest resource of tap-able maple trees in the country. The New York State Maple Producers Association invites families to experience this delicious natural sweetener right at the source during this year’s Maple Weekends on March 19 and 20 and April 2 and 3. All over the state, participating “sugar houses” welcome family and friends to learn how syrup is produced and sample its many sweet forms, including maple candy, maple wine, and the classic fluffy stack of pancakes soaked in maple syrup!
For many, making syrup is a beloved family tradition that continues to be passed down to each generation. Dozens of people work together to set up taps, collect the sap, and boil off all the water to create the syrup, a process that usually takes three or four weeks. On average, a maple tree will produce ten to twenty gallons of sap per tap, and it takes about forty gallons of sap to produce just one gallon of maple syrup!
Perhaps no one understands this process better than Randy Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Maple Farms in Portville.
Sprague, who has been “sugaring” for more than forty years, said this year’s milder winter has definitely impacted syrup production. According to Sprague, “We’re actually making syrup earlier than I ever have before, and I’ve been doing this a long time.” Especially compared to last year’s late start due to sub-zero temperatures, this year’s season has been underway several weeks before the season’s usual start, which is late February to early March.
Maple Weekend is an anticipated annual event since 1995, when sugar houses first began inviting the public to see first-hand how syrup is made. The Ellicottville area is fortunate to have many sugar houses that are participating in Maple Weekend, including Maple Glen Sugar House in Gowanda, Ploetz’s Maple Syrup in Springville, Benz’s Sugar Shanty in East Concord, and of course, Sprague’s Maple Farms in Portville. Visitors can expect a range of hands-on activities (most are free) at these sugar houses including guided tours, demonstrations, maple syrup samples, and the ever-popular sugar-on-snow treat known as jack wax.
There are lots of sugar houses and activities to choose from, and it’s easy to plan your Maple Weekend. Visit the New York State Maple Producers Association’s website, www.nysmaple.com , to search for a list of participating sugar houses in the area within a twenty, fifty, or even a hundred-mile radius. This directory includes details about each sugar house’s weekend events, contact information, and websites, as well as locations of on-site pancake breakfasts, including costs.
\Whether visitors have the whole weekend or just a few hours to explore the production of maple syrup, Maple Weekend is the perfect time to experience the time-honored tradition of New York’s maple syrup industry.