Nothing tops a pancake or waffle like that thick, amber-hued liquid, produced only here in the Northeast—maple syrup. Fortunately for Long Islanders, we don't need to travel to New Hampshire or Vermont to get a firsthand look at the process of converting maple sap into syrup and ultimately sugar. There are farms right here on the island that offer demonstrations and provide samples (yum!).
Over the winter, the trees have stored sugar in their roots. When temperatures dip below freezing at night and rise above freezing by day, the trees get the signal that spring is near. In other words, it's time to grow some leaves and flowers! To do so, they must send their sugary sap up from their roots to their branches. Harvesting that sap is the first step in the process that ultimately brings the syrup to your table. You can learn more about the process--and try it out for yourself--at these three locations:
Nissequogue River State Park
799 Saint Johnland Road, Kings Park
January 31, 1:30-2:30pm
$4 per adult, $3 per child and children under 3 are free
This hands-on program will teach you how to identify and tap a maple tree. Outdoor program, dress for the weather.
Science Museum of Long Island
1526 North Plandome Road, Manhasset
February 15, 10am-3pm
$65, ages 3 and up
Join the folks at the museum as they prepare for their annual harvest of maple syrup. Try your hand at tapping trees, collecting sap, and boiling it down to a sweet and sticky treat. Come dressed for the weather and bring a lunch. Register by calling Rosemarie at 516-627-9400 x10.
56 Gnarled Hollow Road, East Setauket
February 27, noon-4pm
Adults $6, children and seniors, $6
Benner's Farm is offering a more informal look at the sugaring process. Members of the Benner family will be stationed around the farm where visitors can stop by to observe and discuss the various stages of the sugaring process, tapping trees and collecting sap. Visitors can then warm themselves by a roaring fire as they watch the sap being boiled down to sugar. Pancakes topped with the sweet stuff will be served and maple candy will be available for purchase. In addition, visitors will get a taste of what life is like on this 15-acre farm. Call 631-689-8172 for more info.
Hoyt Farm Maple Sugaring
200 New Highway, Commack
Sundays, February 28, March 13 and 20, 1:30pm-3pm
$3 per person, children 5 and under are free
There will be a demonstration of both Native American and Colonial maple sugaring. Call 631-543-7804 for more info.
Programs are outdoors, so be sure to dress for the weather. Sturdy walking shoes are recommended for those wishing to enjoy the beautiful grounds at each site. The programs are within easy access of the parking lot as are the bathrooms and hand-washing stations.
Maple sugaring facts:
- It takes 40 gallons of sap to boil down to 1 gallon of syrup.
- Most of our maple syrup comes from sugar maples, but you can make syrup from red, black, and silver maples.
- Syrups are graded according to their color:
- Fancy Grade or Grade A light amber is the palest and has a delicate, sweet flavor
- Grade A medium amber is a darker shade, like that of apple cider vinegar.
- Grade A dark amber is the darkest and is the sweetest syrup with the strongest flavor
- Grade b is thick, dark, and heavy and is used for baking and as an ingredient in barbecue sauce
Maple sugaring terms:
Bucket hat: a cover for the bucket that prevents things fro falling into the sap
Evaporator: an apparatus used to remove water from the sap
Hydrometer: an instrument that floats in maple syrup used to measure its density. If it is too thin it will taste sour and too thick and sugar crystals will form.
Sap: a thin sweet liquid the tree uses for photosynthesis. Only a small amount of sap is used during the maple sugaring process so the tree is able to continue to grow despite being tapped
Sheeting: the moment when sap becomes syrup
Spout: a short nozzle tapped with a hammer into the hole of a live maple tree through which saps drips out
Sugar bush: an area where maple trees grow
Sugarhouse: a building near the sugar bush that holds the equipment needed to boil sap into maple syrup
Sugar on Snow: chewy taffy-like candy produced when warm maple syrup is poured on fresh, clean snow. It can be twirled with a fork like spaghetti.
Source: Maple Syrup Season by Ann Purmell
Originally published February 2014