Greetings! Following is a guest post from Phyllis Couture. Phyllis grew up on a farm in Wyoming County and now does syrup with her husband and family.
The brighter, longer days of March signal the production of the first crop of the year – Maple Syrup. The North American Indians taught European settlers how to take the sap from the maple trees and cook it down into maple syrup and sugar. Today many farmers and backyard producers engage in this sweet business, and as a result New York has risen to second place among all states in terms of maple syrup production. It is also interesting to note that American maple production is centered in the Northeast because of the favorable climate. That makes it an industry that is here to stay−literally!
As a child, I often went to the woods to gather sap – carefully removing the buckets from the trees, pouring the sap into a larger carrying pail, and then carefully dumping it into the “sap boat” – a large galvanized metal tank secured to a sled like runners and pulled by my Grandfather’s team of horses. Around the woods we went, then back to the “sugar shanty” to unload the sap into the wood fired evaporator, for Grandpa to boil down. The sugar shanty was in the woods, visible only by the steam coming from the stack. The syrup was then taken to a canning room, actually the back room of Grandpa’s house, to be filtered and sealed into metal cans for sale. A favorite after school treat for us was homemade bread and warm maple syrup served by my Grandmother. Back then, most maple producers were also dairy farmers, and this was a cash crop, produced before spring planting began.
Maple syrup making has come a long way since then. Although we can sometimes be nostalgic for doing things the old-fashioned way, today’s farmer uses many modern tools to make the production process quicker and easier. My brother, a 3rd generation sugar producer, has his evaporator in a building by the road. The taps on the trees go to plastic tubing that carries the sap to holding tanks, and some goes directly into the sugar house. He has equipment that removes some of the water before boiling, thus making the time shorter, which reduces his energy usage. He also uses a vacuum pump to extract sap from the trees and increase the volume. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup. He has pressure filters, can and bottle fillers, a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and types of containers including glass, plastic, and metal. He also makes a host of different maple products including: maple sugar, maple spread, granulated maple sugar, maple cotton candy, maple mustard, barbecue sauce, and others.
March is the time when maple producers open their sugar houses to the public. The weekends of March 17 & 18 and March 24 & 25 have been set aside to highlight the work of our State’s maple producers! Visit www.mapleweekend.com to find the location of an open house near you and plan an exciting experience for your family. You will have a wonderful, sweet day of making memories. Admission is free.