The Joy of Maple Syrup: Maple Weekend
April 5, 2016
MAPLE WEEKEND, DUTCHESS COUNTY, NY
Our family loves agricultural tourism; it's a great way to appreciate nature and support local vendors. Your family can make maple weekend an annual tradition. Some maple farms open seasonally during this time, and others remain open during the year. During maple weekend, many farms host pancake breakfasts and allow you to sample their products. The thing I love about maple weekend is seeing the pride the farmers take in producing these wonderful products, and knowing this in turn protects beautiful natural areas and wildlife, among other benefits. My girls enjoy learning where their food comes from, and it is something that has been such a good experience for them to make healthier food choices. Best of all, if you buy a sampling, you will have maple syrup for awhile.
Last year, maple syrup production in New York state reached the highest rate in 70 years, despite the season being reduced to a mere 26 days. Currently, NY is the second largest maple syrup producer in the nation after Vermont (Governor’s Press Office Release, 2015). According to the press release, the growth is due in large part to modern vacuum systems which replaced the more labor-intensive tree taps with metal buckets, which has helped increase production per tap.
First, the number one site you should visit to get more information about maple weekend in New York is www.nysmaple.com. The site allows you to search maple farms across New York State plan your tour using an interactive tool. Each state has similar sites. The site also provides educational resources, such as videos for each grade level, and lessons with materials for students to learn about maple syrup production which tie into science, social studies and math. In addition, there is a section that provides recipes for all that maple syrup you will bring home.
Our tour began in NY state began at Crown Maple, one of the larger maple farms. Driving up to the farm provides a beautiful, picturesque view of typical Dutchess county scenery. The girls stopped to enjoy smores in the outdoor firepit and a sampling of maple popcorn, granola, and maple cotton candy. All of these products give me really great ideas about how to use maple at home, as it is better to use natural sweeteners. What I most love about Crown is the grounds, as they provide a seasonal trail for walking around the farm and a gift shop that is really beautifully decorated. The tasting room is very elegant, it is set up much like a wine tasting room, and the employees are very friendly and provide us some of the details about their seasonal maple production. My favorite product from Crown is probably the light Amber Syrup, as it is very golden in color, it has a more delicate flavor, especially for cocktails and things that require a lighter maple flavor. Madava Farms is open year round.
We continued down the road on our tour to find Soukup Farms, a family owned operation. There we were warmly greeted by Jennifer Soukup, who gave us a wonderful tour. Soukup has been in business for 61 years, and recently her son left corporate America to join the family business. Originally a dairy farm, the farm recently added a new sugar house and has been growing. I really enjoyed seeing how the boiler is operated, as they have a traditional, wood-burning boiler for the sap, and it really makes you appreciate the process.
Soukup has some really delicious maple products and our favorite is the maple hot sauce- it’s amazing. smokey, maplely and then the heat hits you. They have an array of unique, elegant maple bottles, probably my favorite selection of bottles of the whole tour. I loved the gingerbread shaped maple syrup bottles, perfect for holiday gifts. I also loved the flavor of their syrups, they are earthy, sweet, and perfectly balanced. It is evident that they are very knowledgeable about maple production, and it comes through in the quality of their products.
Maple syrup comes in four grades, Golden, Amber, Dark, and Very Dark. All are equally delicious. I had a conversation with someone at the counter, and he felt that maybe with the dark you need a little less, because there is more maple flavor, and the lighter ones are a bit more delicate in flavor. Whichever you choose, they are all great.
The farm has benefited from the new system of vacuum extraction, instead of metal buckets as the owner explains these required being emptied up to twice a day. The farm continues to grow. Ms. Soukup explains to my daughters that the new tubing system needs to be checked for visitors like squirrels, who also love the sweet taste. My daughters really enjoyed watching the traditional boiler with the wood burner being loaded to boil, the smell is smokey and sweet. I was highly educated at this farm and really got to see an in-depth view of the process from start to finish.
Also worth making note of was JSK Cattle Company who made an amazing London Broil and were giving samples during our visit. We ended up buying a roast and brisket, all pasture raised and horomone/antibotic free beef, and it tastes so delicious, really like restaurant quality beef. JSK Cattle is a family farm and provides a CSA for those local in the Hudson Valley.
Our last stop of maple weekend is Cronin’s Maple Farm. As we entered, we could see someone creating art out of the tree stumps right before our eyes, a very interesting hobby. It was pretty amazing to watch how quickly he carved the bear out of nothing but a tree stump with an electric saw, and made it look like a work of art. The girls sat there about 10 minutes observing the process.
Our Maple Tour Breakfast
To end our tour the next morning, we made a breakfast with all the new ingredients we collected on our tour. One fond memory I have of my childhood is of my mom making French Toast and Pancakes. It was one of our traditions. In our house, Adam now makes the pancake mix from scratch, and I make the French Toast; it’s our little deal to take turns making breakfast. We usually have pancakes more often. The French toast is very easy to make. I first soak the bread in plain milk and then dip the bread in beaten eggs with all the ingredients I feel like using that day. Today I opted to use natural, bourbon vanilla flavor, pumpkin spice, maple sugar, and a little cinnamon inside the french toast batter. It looks like adding the maple sugar helps caramelize the toast, just keep a close eye on it.
The hot sauce from Soukup Farms went great on the eggs and sausage. We put the maple we already had open from Cronin Farms. We also used some of the maple sugar from Crown Maple in our French Toast batter. We will probably be comparing all the different maple syrups throughout the year, and using them in different recipes, all are slightly different but all equally good. The NY state maple website I mentioned above has some recipes worth a try.
The best part about maple week, other than eating great food, is providing this experience to our kids. The girls really take pride in supporting local farms, as they should, and I am just proud we can provide them the opportunity to understand the work that goes into making natural foods, and have them pass on this tradition to their families.
Governor’s Press Relsease, June 23, 2015, Accessed 4/3/2016 https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-maple-syrup-production-new-york-hits-70-year-high