More than 20 years ago, 14 members of the Wyoming County Maple Association wanted a better way to market their maple products in a fun-filled way, hence the creation of Maple Sunday. When county maple producers realized there was a real disconnect between the producers and the consumers, the one-day event became a way to showcase one of Wyoming County’s largest agricultural commodities.
“We didn’t really have any idea what was going to happen,” said Gary Bray, owner of Bray Farms, Bray Road, Eagle, “but we wanted to give it a try.”
Now called Maple Weekend, the festivities comprise back-to-back weekends at the end of March.
“We started out as one day, then two, and now…,” Bray said. “When we had people calling us asking if they can come to the farm another time, not only couldn’t we turn them down, we realized there was a real interest and had to add days.”
According to Bray, New York State is number two in maple production – behind Canada, but ahead of Vermont. Additionally, maple syrup is only produced from Southeastern Canada, to the mountains of Virginia, west to Kansas, and north to Michigan and Wisconsin. Producers also tap in Ohio and Indiana.
“We are in the middle of maple country in the whole world. While you can tap red maples, the sugar density is different, thus not as flavorful.”
The flavor of maple syrup is derived from the soil where the tree grows, therefore, syrup from New York will have a different flavor than syrups from other areas. Yet syrup isn’t the only product sap is used for, it can also be processed into sugar, cream, candy, barbecue sauces, and other value-added products.
“Back in my grandparents' day, they would make blocks of maple sugar and take it to the market to trade. They would barter the maple sugar for groceries. The grocers would then turn around and sell the sugar to other consumers. During the war (World War II) sugar was in short supply, maple sugar was a way to sweeten things up. It can also be used in place of dry sugar in recipes, as can maple syrup; there is a conversion chart for that purpose.”
Not only has Bray opened his doors to residents of Western New York, other visitors to his farm hailed from Italy, France, Spain, Japan and England.
“In other countries, maple syrup is a total luxury.”
The only thing in pure maple syrup is, well, syrup. For a Wyoming County producer to have their product labeled as pure New York State maple syrup, it must be accurately graded according to its color.
Part of the weekend also serves to educate the public on the nutritional value of syrup. Bray says, pure maple syrup has nutrients the body needs.
Producers make the golden sweet liquid by concentrating the sap from the maple tree, which then produces a usable product. All the minerals and sugars in the sap are concentrated to 67-68 percent on the Brix scale (named after Adolf F. Brix (1798-1870)). The hydrometer scale is used for measuring the amount of sugar in a solution at a given temperature.
“Making syrup is entirely dependent on nature…the type of soil, the weather, the atmosphere. Even the barometric pressure affects the producer and when and if they can boil. The process of making syrup is to boil off the water, the more moisture in the air, the harder it will be to boil. Syrup boils at 7 degrees over the boiling point of water; depending on the day and barometric pressure, the boiling point can differ, even within the same county.
“The more educated we become, it actually becomes more complicated. However, new technology allows us to better come to our final product.”
In the 21 years Bray has been a part of Maple Weekend he has not only seen changes in how maple is produced – from buckets to vacuum lines, and from woodstove processing to using reverse osmosis – he has also seen the market for maple products grow.
“We want people to come and ask us questions and learn what syrup is, how it’s made and how it can be used. It’s more than just pancake syrup. Maple is versatile…and it’s good for you.”
Maple Weekend continues March 25 and 26. For more information click here.
See related: Maple Weekend kicks off Saturday