Maple Weekend in New York Goes Virtual – Enjoy Your Pancakes at Home This Year
Last updated on March 24, 2021.
Maple season in New York is a sign that Spring is finally coming. Upstate New Yorkers look forward to March and the pancake breakfasts held at farms around the state. Families bundle up and put on their boots to trudge through the muddy forests, knowing that a sweet, delicious meal is waiting for them. But maple weekends were cut short last year. And with the pandemic still happening, New York has decided to cancel the official statewide maple weekend for 2021. Many of the farms around the state have followed suit, and have transitioned to virtual tours and programming. But while maple weekend in New York is cancelled in person, you can still stock up on syrup and enjoy breakfast at home with virtual programs. The toughest part will be choosing between pancakes, waffles, or French toast. Heck, go for all three!
Fun fact: one farm in the Syracuse area IS still hosting maple weekend. Read through the article to find out which one!
Inside Maple Weekend: How is Maple Syrup Made?
It all starts with sugar maple trees. Which New York is full of! The northeastern US has the perfect climate for them to grow. That’s why Vermont is also known for its maple syrup. (I also highly recommend eating your way through Burlington.)
Sugar maple trees are full of 98% water and 2% sugar. It’s that 2% that we use to make into that delicious syrup that tops your pancakes on Sunday morning. There’s just a lot of work that goes in along the journey from the tree to your table.
Harvesting Maple Sap
Maple sap harvesters insert one or two spiles into each tree to collect the sap. What’s a spile? Well, if you’ve seen The Hunger Games, that’s what Katniss tapped into the tree to get fresh drinking water. So it’s like that – but with sap.
For small operations or homegrown maple trees, sugarmakers hang buckets off of the spiles to collect the sap that comes out of the trees. That sap is then boiled in a large pot to turn into syrup.
But the larger farms produce syrup in mass quantity, so they need a more developed system. They have the spiles connected to an intricate maze of tubing. Farmers use gravity to help the sap move through the tubing, to the lowest elevation for collection into a tank.
Boiling Maple Sap into Syrup
Once the sap has been collected into barrels or holding tanks, it then needs to be boiled to remove water. The large farms first process the sap through a reverse osmosis machine. After that process, it then goes through the evaporator to finish off the process.
Do you know how much sap is needed to create a gallon of syrup? 40 gallons! And the average sugar maple produces between 10 and 20 gallons of sap per year.
In the evaporator, the sap travels slowly through channels as it heats up and caramelizes. The evaporator is heated over a hot flame, which is stoked an replenished with fresh wood as often as every 7 minutes. Thermometers on the inside of the evaporator check the temperature of the liquid, and dispense syrup from the chute when it reaches the required temp. That temperature is roughly 215 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, dependent on the elevation, temperature and air pressure. The goal? To reach 66.5% sugar content.
Filtering and Bottling the Syrup
After the syrup has reached the proper temperature, it’s time to filter out any sediment. As soon as the syrup is filtered, it’s ready for bottling!
Some sugarmakers will infuse other flavors into their syrups, like vanilla, cinnamon, or coffee. It’s also become popular to age the syrup in bourbon barrels from local distilleries. Not a bad addition to a boozy brunch!
You might notice that the color of your maple syrup ranges from light to dark. That’s because each tree, each season, and even each day affects the sap that is produced. There are four official grades of maple syrup: golden, amber, dark, and very dark. The darker the syrup, the stronger the maple taste.
Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company
In 1977 Karl Wiles had a dream to create a maple farm using the land around him. That’s how Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company got started! When Karl decided it was time to retire, the business was proudly handed over to Mike Spencer, a college student at the time. Mike had found a passion for sugarmaking on a field trip to a sugar farm when he was just 11 years old. Now he owns and operates one of Central New York’s favorite maple farms!
2021 Maple Weekends at Cedarvale
There’s one maple farm in the Syracuse area that hasn’t cancelled Maple Weekend this year. Instead, Cedarvale Maple Syrup Company has modified their experiences to offer a contactless tour. Visitors can scan a QR code upon arrival to access text and audio versions of the tour. The stops along the tour take you through the trees and production buildings, ending in the gift shop of course!
Please remember to wear your mask and practice social distancing while visiting the property.
One of my favorite parts about visiting Cedarvale is that you can get up close and personal with each stage of the syrup-making process. Walk right up to a tree and watch the air bubbles flow through the sap in the spiles. Walk underneath tubing of sap being carried down the hill from the rest of the farm. In the evaporator room, you can step up to take a look inside the container of sap (2% sugar content, directly from the trees). Then, there are employees at work stoking the flames under the evaporator.
Take a peek at a pitcher of sap – which looks like water – and see how it changes once it comes out of the heat after turning a golden or amber color. The staff encourage you to ask questions and are happy to answer!
Fun Facts about Cedarvale
- Cedarvale produces between 400 and 500 gallons of maple syrup each year.
- On a typical boiling day, they are able to produce about 40 gallons of syrup.
- In addition to maple syrup, Cedarvale is also known for their Christmas tree farm!
Don’t Forget to Take Some Syrup Home
The gift shop is absolutely FULL of maple goodies to purchase. You can choose from syrup of all colors, sizes, and flavors. Then there is maple candy, maple sugar, maple cream, maple coffee, maple tea, maple ice cream…
During their Maple Weekends in March, Cedarvale also hosts a maple breakfast. Treat yourself to pancakes, waffles, French toast, or quiche. All with fresh maple syrup!
Because the statewide Maple Weekend has been canceled, most farms in the area have decided to do the same. But don’t worry! Many are still offering online purchase of their products and virtual tours and demonstrations.
Critz Farms in Cazenovia has been a long time favorite of mine and my family. Their farms are operational year long. The Critz family purchased the farm in 1985 to grow and sell Christmas trees. But over the years they’ve evolved to include crops for every season. Apples, pumpkins, evergreen trees, blueberries, and maple fill out their calendar. Critz also has a brewery/cidery on premise where visitors can enjoy the drinks they produce!
Fun fact: Critz Farms has an extensive solar panel system which provides a significant portion of its energy.
Virtual Maple Weekends at Critz Farms
In a typical year, you can fill a day with all the activities to do during Maple Celebrations at Critz. Visitors can check out what’s going on in the sugar shack and sample freshly boiled syrup. Then, take a ride on the tractor through the forest of over 1,000 sugar maple trees. Finish off your visit with an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. All the while the kids can enjoy the petting zoo and play area.
Unfortunately, none of that is happening this year. For now we have to settle with their behind-the-scenes videos on Facebook of their sugarmaking process. Plus, you can order fresh maple syrup online for pick-up or delivery!
Maple Weekends at Beaver Lake Nature Center
Another favorite spot for pancake breakfasts during maple season is Beaver Lake Nature Center in Baldwinsville. While they have also canceled their pancake breakfasts this year, there are plenty of natural trails to wander through. Visitors can still walk through the sugar bush and see demonstrations of the sugarmaking process.
Did you know that the native Haudenosaunee people discovered the “sweet water” in maple trees? If you can’t make it the the center, enjoy the video below explaining the sugarmaking process and the Haudenosaunee history.
Celebrate Maple Weekend at Home
Get Real Maple Syrup from your Local Farm or Farmers Market
Sure, you can get a bottle of ‘pancake syrup’ for a couple of bucks at your grocery store. It’s cheap, I know. Real maple syrup is quite a bit more expensive in comparison. But it’s worth every penny! If you want to complain that real maple syrup is expensive, think about how much work goes into producing it. How many people are involved in the process. How many trees are required. By purchasing real maple syrup, you’re not just getting an all-natural and more delicious product. You’re also supporting local farmers. Real maple syrup for the win!