The harsh, seemingly endless winter has delayed maple sugar production this year, but two Niagara County sites have been busy these past several days preparing for the 20th annual New York Maple Weekend.
It began Saturday and continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and again March 28 and 29.
Wolf Maple Products at 9355 Chestnut Ridge Road, Middleport, and Gaeta Family Farm, at 3789 Ridge Road, Lockport, are throwing open their doors and inviting guests to savor the intoxicating aroma of all things maple.
“The maple season is a few weeks behind schedule this year,” said Heidi Wolf, who, along with her husband, Jason, operates Wolf Maple Products. “The ground is still really, really frozen.
“We did our third boil today,” she said last week. “Jason just started tapping the trees a couple of weeks ago. It seemed like last week was just what we were looking for – beautiful, warming days and freezing nights, but now it’s getting cold again during the day. Everything is still so frozen and it’s taking longer to defrost.”
But the Wolfs stockpiled and refrigerated excess syrup tapped from their 1,000 trees in large, stainless steel drums last year and they are now bottling it and also using it to create the myriad products they sell at this time of year, to supplement what they can produce fresh. They feature molded maple sugar, maple cream and granulated maple sugar products, among many others.
“One of the great things about maple syrup is that, if it’s stored properly, it doesn’t go bad,” Wolf said. “It’s the same with honey. They are Mother Nature’s two natural sweeteners.”
Wolf said it’s still early to tell, but it seems the syrup produced last spring may have been sweeter than the initial sap they are tapping now.
“The first couple of runs, when we collected and boiled it down, the sugar (content) was lower than last year’s, so that means it just takes more (sap) to make a gallon of syrup,” she noted. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed. The window (for tapping) is usually about four to six weeks. Normally, we’d be done by early April, but hopefully, this year, we’ll go a few weeks into April.”
Wolf said she will provide the syrup for two all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts starting at 7 a.m. Sunday. They include: Boy Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack 23’s event, which runs until noon at the Middleport Fire Hall, and features a basket raffle – it’s $6 for adults and $4 for children; and a similar event at Shelby Fire Hall, $8 for adults and $4 for children, which runs until 2 p.m. The Hartland Fire Hall breakfast is slated for March 29, she added.
Anthony Gaeta, owner of the Gaeta Family Farm on Route 104 in Lockport, said he has been making maple syrup for eight years, tapping sugar maples on his sister’s Cambria property the old-fashioned way, with buckets.
“I love making it,” he said. “I built this sugar shack after I retired and it’s all state-of-the-art equipment. Last year was the first time we participated in Maple Weekend and I didn’t know if anyone would show up. We had 300 people the first weekend and another 300 the second weekend.
“It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun,” he added. “I love talking to people. Some like to see how it’s made or they might want to do it themselves and ask for some pointers.
“This is the first agricultural crop of the year and it’s nice to get out after this brutal winter we’ve had,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have a good season.”
Gaeta said maple producers are moving to a new grading system, “international standards,” which describe color and flavor. They include: golden, which has a delicate taste; amber, with a rich taste; dark, with a robust taste; and very dark, with a strong taste.
“They are all Grade A now,” he said. “When we start boiling the sap, it’s light, then as the weather warms, it gets darker in color, so that by the end of the season, we have the darkest syrup. It’s all the same sugar content and Mother Nature controls it.”
Maple Weekend is free and open to the public and involves producers throughout the state. It is sponsored by the New York State Maple Producers Association. For more information, visit: nysmaple.com.