It’s just about time for my favorite family activity. As we anticipate our annual tradition of visiting a local maple farm, I can’t help but recall a favorite childhood memory.
I remember adding maple sugar to fresh snow to make a sweet treat (don’t worry, scientists say eating small amounts of snow usually isn’t harmful). Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” was a childhood favorite of mine and I copied this trick that Laura’s grandmother taught her. My daughter recently read the story and it will be great to re-enact the experience with her–especially given our upcoming trip to a “sugar house.”
With New York’s Maple Weekends starting soon, upstate New Yorkers can visit a maple farm and start their own family traditions.
Every spring, New York State Maple Producers Association coordinates events at the “sugar houses” at about 160 farms and museums. This year it will be March 18-19 and 25-26, 2017. Find a place near you!
Most places have hands-on demonstrations of how syrup is made, fresh syrup tastings, and experts on hand to answer questions. Many also have pancake breakfasts complete with—you guessed it— local syrup.
My family loves these maple weekends. This fun family activity signals the beginning of spring, even if there’s still snow on the ground. The highlight for my 9-year-old-daughter is sampling fresh syrup, maple butter, and, of course, maple candy.
Making maple syrup
I also love seeing how syrup is made and how natural the process is. While upgrades have been made over time, the basic process has remained the same for centuries. Native Americans in the northeastern United States and Canada were known to make syrup, and today New York is a top syrup producer.
Really, anyone can do it. The process involves very simple, classic steps:
Phase One: Find a sugar, black or red maple tree, drill a hole for a tap, add a bucket under the tap and let gravity work its magic.
Phase Two: Boil! It takes about ten gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Farms have huge vats for this process. And don’t forget to filter the syrup once boiled to remove sediment.
Phase Three: Pour into a sterile bottle and cap. Keep unopened containers in a cool place for up to two years. Once opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Phase Four: Enjoy!
You may notice syrup comes in different colors. Some have rich hues of brown or amber or gold. There’s a reason for this! A syrup’s color and flavor correlates to when the syrup was made; sap from later in the season is often darker in color and typically has a stronger flavor.
More than Pancakes
Maple syrup isn’t just for breakfast.
You can bake with it, using syrup in place of the sugar.
If you’re replacing sugar with maple syrup, you’ll want to use about ¾ cup of syrup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by about three tablespoons.
Visit the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Pinterest page for other tasty recipes for baking with maple syrup. (Don’t forget to view the recipes at the end of this story!)
“Just remember, maple syrup is basically sugar so enjoy it in moderation,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
A local tradition
If you’re a Maple Weekend newbie, here are some of my favorite places to consider:
- Cumming Nature Center in Ontario County. Part of the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), the tour focuses on the science of syrup making. This is a big place, so leave time to explore the extensive trails after breakfast.
- Genesee Country Village and Museum in Monroe County. I’m a sucker for period costumes. You can experience syrup making in the 19th century. During maple sugar weekends, the museum is an especially attractive family activity with free admission for kids 18 and under.
- Packard Valley Farms in Wayne County. This has been a favorite family activity for the past few years. There is a petting zoo and a hay ride up the road to a restaurant serving breakfast all day!
- Schoff’s Sugar Shack in Ontario County. This family business uses modern techniques for making syrup. Instead of a tap and bucket, they use tubing to carry the sap into a pipeline.
Other farms to consider include:
- Critz Farms in Madison County
- Cedarvale Maple Syrup Co. in Onondaga County
- Shaw’s Maple Products in Oneida County
- The Wild Center in Franklin County
- Wellspring Forest Farm and School in Tompkins County