Ramble On

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Sugar House

The sign out front - and the Friends' dairy farm
across the road.
My recent road trip took us to part of the country I hadn't ever been to before, and we were lucky enough to have some found time on the way back to the hotel.  At the lunch counter - the Cherry Knoll, in Burke, NY, by the way - we heard that there was a farm nearby where they make maple syrup, so we made a quick stop.  The farmer was across the street, tending to his 90-head dairy heard, but he came over to show us around.

Sugar Shack.
The season for sugaring was short this year due to the mild winter.  Optimal sap running time is when the day time temperatures are in the 40's, and the night time temperatures settle back into the 20's - that time is already passed.  Our farmer - Mr. Friend, in fact - said we'd missed the peak by two weeks.  That was okay - we had the place to ourselves, and he was generous with his time.

He has about 225 acres total running in three separate parcels.  A stand of maple trees is called a "sugar bush" - and we learned that the process is changing from those old romantic views of a metal spout hanging from the tree with a bucket attached.  They run plastic tubing from tree to tree now, with a little plastic spout driven into the tree itself.  The system may be connected to a pump, but it all leads to a collection vat.

This was put together from boards out
of a couple of old maples - the holes
are old taps and the discoloration is
staining from sap collection.
The trees need to be in the neighborhood of 30 years old to be productive enough for tapping.  Generally this means that they are ten to 12 inches in diameter at eye level.  Each tree yields ten gallons of sap per year, and it takes forty gallons to make one gallon of syrup.

This is the evaporator that heats and boils
the sap, so that it concentrates the goodness.
That process is carefully done inside the building by the large evaporator shown here.  There's a great deal of preheating that takes place, controlled to be as fuel efficient as possible, before the sap is finally brought to a boil.  All of this is done to reduce the water content, so that you have the concentrated syrup left over.

Mr. Friend told us that he'd had quite the agri-tourism experience this year.  New York state promotes maple products extensively, so enthusiastic crowds were showing up to watch the process, to walk in the sugar bush, to buy products - they even booked a couple of Amish horse and buggies for rides around the roads nearby.  Sounds like it was quite the day trip.

The goods.
At the end of our visit, I bought a quart of syrup and a few packs of hard candies.  Everything's delicious, as you can imagine.

One final thought - Mr. Friend doesn't have a website yet for the syrup operation.  But he does take orders over the phone and he will ship throughout the US.  Leave a note in the comments and I will pass along his phone number.  

No comments: