By Rick Miller
Western New York’s Maple Weekends are still a couple of weeks away, but for Sprague’s Maple Farm in Portville, every weekend in March is a maple weekend.
Except for the beginning of March, when it was bitterly cold and very windy, owner Randy Sprague said in an interview last week.
March 1–3 is the 2019 maple season’s inaugural weekend at Sprague’s. With warmer temperatures, the sap was sure to be running again last weekend.
There’s a maple demonstration area behind the Sprague’s Restaurant on Route 305 where they tap trees and visitors watch maple sap flowing into a storage tank from the maple forests on the hill.
There’s a wagon ride to the sugar shanty on the hill where sap is boiled the old fashioned way over a wood-fired evaporator. There’s also a trail and displays of old-time sugaring including how Indians boiled the sap.
Inside the sugar shanty, the smell of boiling maple sap and maple donuts permeates the air. Wash down that maple donut with a cup of hot chocolate. There’s also a taste of maple wine for adults.
Except for a couple of days at the end of February, Sprague’s, like most maple producers have been frozen out. It takes daytime temperatures in the 40s and nighttime temperatures in the 20s to get the sap flowing.
With the Northeast in a deep freeze for most of this year, there have only been a couple of opportunities for the sap to run, Sprague said. “People who tapped early” made some syrup in January.
Sprague made his first syrup during a short sap run a couple of weeks ago. “The whole industry is at a standstill,” he said. “We can make it up in a hurry though.”
With temperatures reaching into the 40s this weekend, Sprague and other Western New York maple producers are looking for a week-long run at least. “It’s what we desperately need. A couple of weeks of this weather and we could make a lot of syrup.”
More and more producers use a vacuum system to help coax the sap from the trees into the collection lines. Most also use a reverse osmosis system to remove much of the water from the flavorful sap, leaving less water to boil off using wood or gas.
Depending on the sugar content it can take 40 gallons or more of maple sap to make one gallon of amber syrup. New York has the greatest number of tappable maple trees in the U.S. and more than 2,000 maple producers. Its production is slightly behind Vermont, the top producer state.
This March 23–24 and March 30–31 will be the 24th annual Maple Weekend in New York state. It started in 1995 as Maple Sunday. Now Maple Weekend spans four days over two weekends. It gives visitors a chance to see, smell and taste maple syrup at the source.
A number of maple producers in Cattaraugus County are participating in Maple Weekend again this year. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.
Blesy Maple, 7129 Henrietta Road, Springville (Ashford).
Boberg’s Maple, 2298 Edmunds Road, Delevan. Phone (716) 378-8736.
Maple Glen Sugar House, 2266 Gowanda Zoar Road, Gowanda. Phone (716) 532-5483.
Moore’s Maple Shack and Pancake House, 10444 Galen Hill Road, Freedom. Phone (716) 492-2714.
Sprague’s Maple Farm and Restaurant, 1048 Route 305, Portville. Phone (716) 933-6637.
Wright Maple Farm, 9166 Laidlaw Road, Farmersville. Phone (716) 474-7474.