NYS Maple Weekends March 21-22, 28-29

By Jann Wiswall

New York State is the second largest maple syrup producer in the United States, behind Vermont, and it produces some of the best quality syrup in the world. So it makes sense that the state’s Maple Producers Association sponsors Annual Maple Weekends each year during peak production weeks to promote the growing industry and its delicious products.

While it’s big business for some, maple sugaring — the process of collecting sap and making syrup — is a popular hobby in the state, too. Many local residents in the Ellicottville area from all walks of life enjoy the uniquely satisfying process of tapping, boiling and refining maple sap for their own enjoyment.

Whether you’re a large or small producer, though, maple season begins and ends when Mother Nature says so. Typically, daytime temperatures need to be in the 40s and overnight temperatures should hold in the 20s for maple tree sap to start running. And the season ends when the buds on the trees start coming out.

For obvious reasons, the 2015 season is starting a bit late, with the coldest February on record just behind us and a 3-4 foot base of snow that has not yet begun melting.

Local hobbyist Norm Lacey is hoping to get his small operation started within the next week, weather permitting. Lacey, who has been sugaring on his and neighbors’ properties in Great Valley since 1980, says the biggest challenge this year will be the deep snow in the woods.

“We’ll be getting out the snowshoes to get to the trees,” he said.

Lacey typically has 200-250 taps. Last year, which he said was a good season, he and his friends/volunteers got about 35 gallons of syrup from their efforts.

“It takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup,” he explains. The sap is boiled down for days — in Lacey’s case, on a wood-fired evaporator in his sugarhouse.

“It’s a lot of work over a three- or four-week period, but everyone enjoys the challenge. There’s a lot of camaraderie that goes along with it. And the pay is syrup!”

This year, the 20th Annual Maple Weekends are being held March 21-22 and March 28-29, with some 160 maple producers across the state participating in this unique agritourism opportunity. In Cattaraugus County, five of our larger maple businesses — Boberg’s Maple, Maple Glen Sugar House, Moore’s Maple Shack & Pancake House, Sprague’s Maple Farms and  Wright Farms — are holding open houses where you will learn about how maple trees are tapped, how the sap is boiled into maple syrup and how the syrup is further refined into other maple products. Of course, visitors can sample and purchase maple products, and many will be offering up plates of warm pancakes and other treats such as syrup on snow (jack wax), which is hot, thickened syrup that forms a sweet taffy when poured on fresh snow.

For more information and a complete list of participating sugarhouses in New York, visit www.mapleweekend.com.