Sunday, March 16, 2008


Sap to syrup: Maple weekend is coming up
Enjoy events offered by more than 100 producers in N.Y.
Christine A. Smyczynski • March 16, 2008
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

My eldest son doesn't join our family's Maple Weekend expeditions — at 17, Andy's got other things to do — but he certainly enjoys the syrup we bring home. I'm not talking about the kind of watered-down "pancake syrup" you find on grocery-store shelves, but 100 percent pure maple syrup, made right here in western New York.

March is traditionally maple sugaring season in our region, and Maple Weekend is a chance to see how maple sap becomes syrup and get the good stuff right from the source.

The family-friendly event started 13 years ago when a handful of maple producers in Wyoming County decided to open their doors to the public for one Sunday in early spring to promote their products. It has grown to a two-day event that includes more than 100 maple producers across the state.

With 14 producers on board this year, Wyoming County still has by far the largest number of places participating. Of all the sites my family has visited during past Maple Weekends, our hands-down favorite is Merle Maple Farm on Route 98 in Attica.

The Merle family has been in the maple business for four generations. They now have 16,000 taps, putting them among the top 10 producers in the state.

My most vivid memory of our first visit was the mud. You have to remember that these producers are family-run farms, and farms are pretty muddy this time of year. Be sure to dress for the weather and wear older clothes and boots. You may want to bring an old sheet to put on the car floor and paper towels to wipe off muddy boots.

Based on an informal family survey, here are the top reasons to head out for Maple Weekend:Eating: My son Peter, 15, votes for the free samples of syrup and other products that many of the producers offer. Jennifer, 12, especially enjoys "maple snow," when hot syrup poured over a pan of clean snow creates a chewy maple confection. And maple cotton candy, which we get at Merle's, is also a favorite with Jennifer and our youngest, Joey. He can eat a whole bag in one sitting.

Personally, I'm fond of hot maple mustard, which makes a great pretzel dip.Education: My husband, Jim, likes the tour that Merle Maple offers. "I found it interesting how the process works," he says. "I like seeing how the sap gets from the trees to the sugarhouse and how the sap is boiled to make the syrup."

Methods vary from producer to producer, so you'll find some using more traditional methods while others have state-of-the-art equipment.Entertainment: Apart from the chance to see how maple syrup is made, many of the producers offer add-ons such as wagon rides, guided tours and kids' activities. For Joey, 5, the horse-drawn wagon rides to the sugarbush at Merle's was a top pick: "It was so fun!"

Other events planned at Merle's include demonstrations of tree tapping, a working sawmill (Saturday only) and an air cannon that shoots snowballs.

Christine A. Smyczynski is a freelance writer and author of Western New York, an Explorer's Guide.

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